The charm of Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s Bon Voyageis that it
doesn’t take itself too seriously. For many years now,
French filmmakers have been drawn to the troubled years of French
occupation in World War II. But while the majority of these films
are a somewhat painful experience for audiences and filmmakers,
probing the raw wounds of recent history, Rappeneau’s film
about wartime France is refreshingly free of the kind of moral
dilemmas we have come to expect of the genre. The downside of this freedom from convention is that Rappeneau
doesn’t seem to quite know what kind of film he wants this
to be. Bon Voyage is a real conundrum – a wartime melodrama
played at the tempo of farce, with a bit of suspense thrown in
for good measure. Set in June 1940, the film shows France in
chaos as the German invasion reaches Paris. Fleeing south to
Bordeaux, a disparate group of French people become involved in
what appears in a comedy of chance encounters, sudden reversals
and romantic liaisons. The cast is stellar and Rappeneau has
gathered the cream of French talent to play a motley collection
of camp stereotypes, including the pouting screen diva (Isabelle
Adjani), the plucky girl-friday (Virginie Ledoyen), the feckless
politician (Gerard Depardieu) and the sleazy German spy (Peter
Coyote). Our protagonist is the befuddled young writer (Grégroi
Derangère), framed for murder and at the mercy of anyone who has
an agenda. But Derangère is by far the weakest in an excellent
cast who ham it up for high comedy. There are few ambiguities
here: the good guys are good, the baddies are horrid. The plot is
a subtly-rendered take on the classic love story, in which naïve
young writer Frederic realises he is being taken for a ride by
the spendidly vapid object of his affections. Clichéd? Yes. But
if the viewer, like Rappeneau, takes the film with a pinch of
salt, then it’s an enjoyable two hours of escapism, its
beauty lying in its simplicity.ARCHIVE: 6th week TT 2004