Let’s address the elephant in the room first: Woody Allen hasn’t made a great film in years. Opinions vary enormously, of course, on which one was the last top-notch effort: Some would go to bat for, say Blue Jasmine (2013), while others defend Match Point (2005). Many others reckon that Husbands and Wives (1992) was the last gasp of greatness before it all started going bumpily downhill.
And of course there are those, especially among younger filmgoers who didn’t grow up with Allen as a kind of mascot for American East Coast Jewish identity, who just don’t get what the fuss was ever about — and/or why the olds so want to defend someone who has been accused by his daughter Dylan Farrow of sexual abuse, even if charges were never brought against him.
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Oh yeah, that’s another elephant, isn’t it?
That last controversy may not put Allen in the same category as Roman Polanski, who, like Allen, has also had his latest programmed into the Venice Film Festival this year. Like Polanski’s The Palace, Coup de Chance happens to be showing out of competition, but which strand it’s in is of little interest to festival-goers who feel his inclusion in any shape or form is an insult to survivors.
This review is not the place to rehash those argument all over again, but they’re worth bearing in mind when considering Coup de Chance‘s backstory. For this mostly competent but largely uninteresting, bordering-on-silly work upholds the Allen tradition of just carrying on as usual — doing the same old thing, more or less, with tiny innovations around the edges and some actors in the cast who haven’t worked with Allen before.
Coup‘s most striking innovation — a career first for Allen — is that it is entirely in French, a language the director admits he doesn’t speak at all. To my mind, the language barrier hasn’t stopped him from eliciting serviceable performances from the main cast. But even this aspect of the film feels overshadowed by the controversy regarding Allen’s private life, as it could be seen as evidence that Anglophone performers feel it isn’t worth the hassle of working with Allen given the likelihood of backlash. Plus there’s the fact that his last few films have struggled even to get released in the U.S.
In France, they see things differently, mostly. While several of Allen’s regular recent collaborators are still working with him — such as costume designer Sonia Grande, editor Alisa Lepselter, and legendary DP Vittorio Storaro (using digital for the first time here to capture stunning autumnal landscapes) — they’re joined not just by an all-French cast but also some local craftspeople, like production designer Veronique Melery. The result is a smoothly efficient but oddly anonymous work that looks like it was made by a French director who is a superfan of Allen, but not really Woody himself.
The plot is another variation on his run of serious ruminations on ethics like Crime and Misdemeanors (1989) or Match Point, light on jokes but with the same moneyed milieu as the comedies. While Allen explains in the press notes that he originally conceived this as a story about expat Americans abroad, the recasting of the story with all French characters, all scions of the haute bourgeoisie as per usual, works okay (although Parisians are sure to nitpick details like real-estate settings and costume details just as much as Londoners did with Match Point).
The main protagonists are married couple Fanny (Lou de Laage, fine), a gallerist, and her slightly older husband Jean (Melvil Poupaud), some kind of venal, poorly defined money guy whose job is, as he describes it patronizingly to his wife, making rich people richer. Fanny lived in New York in her youth, where she attended a French lycee and was previously married to a druggie bohemian type we never meet. She’s a little uncomfortable that the wealthy set she moves in these days thinks of her as a trophy wife (she’s right, they do), and insists that she doesn’t want to wear the fancy jewelry Jean buys her or to look too sexy in the little black dress he likes her to wear to make other men jealous. (It works, judging by the reactions we hear from the chorus-like peripheral characters.)
In the opening sequence, Fanny runs into Alain (Niels Schneider, likable), a schoolmate from her New York days, who professes practically off the bat that he always had a crush on her. Since high school, Alain has become a writer — not exactly successful but doing well enough that he can afford a well-lit top-floor garret apartment with one bedroom. Over a few weeks and a series of picnic lunches in parks, the two start having an affair. But Jean, sensing something’s up, has her followed by detectives. And when he finds out the truth, he shows his true, most ruthless colors.
There is a moderate amount of suspense around which way things will go for Fanny, Jean and Alain that Allen handles with some style. The problem is that it’s pretty much the same style he’s had for a long time and, aside from the aforementioned fact that this is in French, it feels like the same old same old all the way through — right up to the “surprise” ending that’s hokey and predictably “random,” apropos of the theme of chance the characters keep banging on about throughout.
Just before the end credits rolled — backed by a fine horn-forward track that’s of a piece with the more edgy, bebop-era choice of jazz cuts throughout — the last line, “Best not to dwell on it,” lingered for a weirdly long time in the subtitle box at the screening I attended. Truly, these are wise words of advice when it comes to this slight, forgettable film.
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