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Bon voyage (2003)

Rating: 5/10

Running Time: 110 minutes

US Certificate: PG-13 UK Certificate: 12


Paris, 1940. Frédéric (Grégori Derangère), an immature would-be writer, has never got over his boyhood infatuation with Viviane (Isabelle Adjani), once his neighbour and now a successful cinema starlet – so when she asks him to rescue her from scandal by removing a pesky corpse from her apartment, he agrees – and when he is caught red-handed with the body, he prefers to be incarcerated on a murder conviction than to mention Viviane's involvement in the affair. As the Germans enter the French capital, Frédéric escapes prison with the help of fellow inmate Raoul (Yvan Attal), and races south in search of his beloved, meeting on the way an idealistic student named Camille (Virginie Ledoyen) who is trying to smuggle her Jewish professor, and some crucial components for an atomic bomb, from out of the Nazis' clutches.

At a luxury hotel in Bourdeaux, the manipulative Viviane has attached herself to Beauford (Gérard Depardieu), a prominent politician who is negotiating France's surrender – while she has also caught the eye of Winckler (Peter Coyote), an American journalist spying for the Germans. Frédéric must decide whether to continue assisting Viviane in her self-serving schemes, or whether the time has come to resist her charms and commit himself to a more adult cause.

The programmatic opening sequence of 'Bon Voyage' takes place, like its ending, in a cinema. At the premiere of Viviane's latest film, a besotted Beauford tells her, “You light up troubled times…it's what we need, a little escapism”. The 'troubled times' are the beginnings of what was perhaps France's most difficult period in the twentieth century – the German occupation – a time when all the French had to choose, like Frédéric and the other main characters, between the paths of collaboration and resistance. Yet in homage to the kind of 'escapist' capers that were popular at the time, 'Bon Voyage' itself takes a decidedly comic approach to this era, turning France's darkest hour into light farce, and reducing Frédéric's dilemma to a choice between two women.

'Bon Voyage' ought by all rights to be a highly memorable film. After all, it is made by Jean-Paul Rappeneau, whose previous films 'Cyrano de Bergerac' and 'Horseman on the Roof' have established him as one of France's most successful writer/directors, and it stars a host of French acting heavyweights. Yet for all its admirable period detail, and the carnivalesque gusto with which it places characters from all walks of life under a single roof, 'Bon Voyage' is more tedious than funny. It is filled with comic-book stereotypes rather than real characters, so that even the great Isabelle Adjani is unable to find anything substantial in her rôle. Despite taking Rappeneau three years to write, the script lacks the tightness which good farce requires, and while the players never stop moving, all this running about, far from giving the film a spirited pace, makes its 110 minutes seem aimless and exhausting.

'Bon Voyage' has much to commend it – but by the time it is over, you will be more likely to bid it a relieved 'Adieu' than a dewy-eyed 'Au revoir'.

It's Got: Fantastic cast; wonderful period detail.

It Needs: Comedy that is funnier; a more economic, less aimless script.

DVD Extras French language, English subtitles; scene selection; choice of 2.0 stereo/5.1 Dolby Surround; The Double-Life of Jean-Paul Rappeneau (21min, English subs), a featurette on the films pre-production and production narrated by producer Michele Petin (whose over-inflated turns of phrase match the melodrama of the film itself); behind-the-scenes (3min); theatrical trailer and French trailer; on-set interviews with actors Isabelle Adjani, Gérard Depardieu, Virginie Ledoyen, Yvan Attal (who describes Rappeneau as "psychotic"), Grégori Derangère, Aurore Clement and Peter Coyote (who loves "being a Jew and playing a Nazi"); showreel of Optimum titles (Pépé le Moko, Plein Soleil). DVD Extras Rating: 4/10


This French Occupation-era farce is certainly light – but also light on laughs.