La Belle Epoque

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A tight set of tableaux to enact a fantasy or to relive a memory.

The premise of La Belle Epoque (The Good Time) is very French. A couple in their golden years: Victor – a cartoonist who was big in the eighties – and Marianne – a psychotherapist busily ignoring her profession’s code of ethics, have fallen out of love.

And just as his marriage crumbles, Victor receives a curious offer from a grateful protégé – Antoine.

Antoine is now a highly strung, manipulative director who makes a pretty penny constructing fantasies on film sets for rich clients – poisonous pre-Revolution banquets in full hooped skirts and powdered wigs, boozing with Hemingway, or saying goodbye to an emotionally distant (and deceased) father.

When Antoine offers to construct a fantasy for Victor, Victor chooses to relive the best moment of his life, when he first met his wife Marianne in 1974.

Antoine, in the first of a series of manipulations that warp the boundaries of real and unreal, casts his own ex-girlfriend Margot as the young Marianne in this re-enacted memory.

But when your art is artifice, where do you draw the line? In a re-enactment with a cast of dozens and an audience of one, how do you stop the action?

This film had three characteristics that defined it for me (a very novice student) as a very French film:

  • Each character’s arc was complex, nuanced and satisfying. There was no black and white, just consequences, regrets and eventually, new beginnings.
  • There were not sex scenes, so much as scenes that just had sex in them.
  • Minor characters were allowed to steal entire scenes with their handfuls of memorable lines.

I very much recommend La Belle Epoque as an enjoyable film and a great piece of storytelling.