The plot to Nicolas Bedos’ joyous French rom-com La Belle Epoque initially feels like everything
we’ve seen before from the romance genre: An ageing man, Victor (Daniel Auteuil),
finds his marriage with Marianne (Fanny Ardent) on its way out. She’s shacked
up with a lover, and he’s finding it difficult to embrace life and love. Victor
meets Antoine (Guillaume Canet), a man who might have the key to unlocking the
vitality that once thrived in Victor’s life. Reluctantly, Victor takes up
Antoine’s offer of ‘transporting’ him to the past, where he revisits the moment
he first met Marianne.
Antoine runs a company that offers the chance for its patrons
to experience ‘time travel’. Not in the science-fiction sense, but rather, his
company meticulously recreates their clients desired era, with Antoine writing
scripts for the plethora of hired actors, allowing the client to be immersed completely
in the world and time of their choice.
Epoque opens with a horrifyingly hilarious pitch-black comedy
moment, with the client having opted for an era that allowed for them to
embrace open racism without criticism. The way Bedos throws viewers in the deep
end is invigorating, especially after he immediately pulls the rug from
everyone and subverts the scene completely. The tone is set, and the
foundations for a genuinely heartfelt and loving film are established.
When Victor takes up Antoine’s offer to be taken back to the moment
he fell in love with Marianne, he is dressed up in the same era-appropriate
clothing he wore back then, with the company doing their best to make the
60-year-old man the 20-something year old he was way back when. There he meets
a youthful version of his wife to be, Margot (Doria Tiller, giving a simply
joyous performance), and the two recreate the days they fell for each other. As
the charade continues, Victor finds himself falling for Margot.
Victor recalls a time of beauty and brilliance, of excess and
ecstasy. Drugs were everywhere, sex was available for all, freedom was flowing.
And in that era, that’s where he found the love of his life. By revisiting
these moments, he’s able to recall and relive the time that he fell in love, and
in turn, he’s able to remind himself why he fell for Marianne all those years
ago. With those memories revisited, he realises what he risks to lose by not
working on his relationship, by not being there as a husband for the wife he
loves so dearly. La Belle Epoque reminds
us all that we should not treat romance and love as a frivolous entity to be
allowed to age and weather in the rains of time, and leaves you with the memory
that love is something you need to work on to ensure it stays alive.
The layers upon layers that Bedos applies with his story are
almost too plenty for a humble review, but it’s important to outline how
masterfully Bedos manages to weave together a narrative about the complexities
of time, of memories, and the fragility that comes with ageing. He acknowledges
the failures of memory, the way it deceives us to forget the harshness of the
past, how it encourages us to hold onto the moments we hold dear. On more than
one occasion, La Belle Epoque states
that while we may wear rose tinted glasses in our mind, the past is not always
Epoque feels like the kind of film you want your parents to see.
You want them to be reminded of why they fell in love in the first place, to
consider how they ended up where they were, and to remember that they need to
continue to fall in love with each other. This is simply lovely stuff, and is a
genuinely loving and romantic film, one that will leave you with a foolish grin
on your face.
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