La Belle Epoque is a high-concept romantic comedy with a top-notch cast.
Daniel Auteil is Victor, an aging cartoonist who’s newspaper has gone online only and no longer needs him. As a result, he feels lost and left behind. His wife Marianne (Fanny Ardant) is trying to keep up. She’s a psychiatrist who gets excited by the digital possibilities of things like virtual reality, and is also having an affair with her only client – a younger man who’s a friend of Victor.
Victor and Marianne’s relationship is colourful to say the least. They throw barbarous insults at one another and have fallen out of love.
Their son Maxime (Michael Cohen) works at a TV production company making a series for a Netflix-alike digital streaming company. An opening scene cleverly plays with our perceptions and set up what will be the crux of the film, but showing us what we come to understand is a pilot for a series on this streamer.
Maxime’s friend Antoine (Guillaume Canet) runs a company that gave Maxime inspiration for his pilot. This company will, Westworld-style, recreate your fantasies, building sets and employing actors to allow wealthy clients to live out their imaginations.
Antoine gifts Victor a free pass to this world, and when Marianne rashly throws Victor out one day, he decides to take up his gift. He wants to go back to the seventies and relive his first meeting with Marianne in a bar. Because he’s a cartoonist, Victor provides detailed storyboards for his memories, and Antoine’s company built a facsimile of the bar and town on their studio set.
Antoine casts Margot (Doria Tillier), his off-and-on-again lover, as the younger Marianne, and she throws herself into the role.
And there you have the set-up, an older man playing a younger version of himself (although without trying to de-age him), and meeting the love of his life, played by a young actress.
What could possibly go wrong?
In fact, the film quite cleverly skirts the older-man/younger-woman scenarios fairly cleverly, and the film becomes about this central fake relationships alongside Victor and Marianne’s, and Antoine and Margot’s.
There are laugh out loud moments – perhaps the biggest coming in a dinner party scene that reference’s Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop website.
Early on, the cross-cutting between stories is enormously frenetic, and in a Q&A with director Nicolas Bedot, I asked him about it. He explained that it was to give us an idea about how lost in this world that Victor found himself. Bedot is a performer himself, although he didn’t want to play a role in this film because as the son of a performer himself, he felt it would be distracting.
Coming out of a very enjoyable film, I wanted to seek out his previous work, Mr and Mrs Adelman. Unfortunately, it’s not been released in the UK, and there’s therefore no version of it to be found on streaming platforms or DVD. Perhaps, when the film gets a wider release in November, his previous work might become more available.