If you’ve got a hankering for a bullet-flinging, romantic, film noir roller coaster, Bon Voyage is the ticket, except this story of 1940s France is filmed in present-day full-color and has the luxury of historical distance at its disposal.
Viviane, the film’s centerpiece, is an actress who sashays from sucker to sucker in silky evening gowns with cascading brunette finger waves falling around her milky complexion and fawnlike eyes. She draws men like flies; everything about her screams movie star. After the premiere of her latest song-and-dance film, government minister Jean-Étienne Beaufort, played by Gérard Depardieu, practically falls in her lap with admiration, just before Viviane falls into scandal, which just happens to be the name of her favorite perfume. Like Barbara Stanwyck duping the hapless Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity (1944), Viviane twists her old flame Frédéric, the struggling novelist, into her shady circumstances. But unlike Indemnity, director Paul Rappeneau frames the starlet’s drama within the context of the Nazi occupation of Paris and the beginnings of atomic weaponry — a topic WWII-era films couldn’t have touched, but which were nonetheless a puzzle-piece of the conflict.
When it comes to aging, French actors are much like French wine. Back for another film with Rappeneau is distinguished diehard thespian Depardieu, who ripped our hearts out in Rappeneau’s 1990 version of Cyrano De Bergerac.
Isabelle Adjani also has worked with the director before, in his film Tout feu, tout flamme (1982). More than 20 years later, as the purring and scratching femme fatale, makeup does a pretty good job of covering up that Adjani is about to push 50.
But Bon Voyage goes far beyond skin-deep, dipping into allegory. When the minister tells Viviane that she’s what the country needs in troubled times, he’s not kidding. Viviane is the personification of ’40s films — glamorous, with affected emotions — an over-the-top diversion from the grueling war-and-peace realities at hand. She seduces literary-minded Frédéric and distracts him from his noble goal of helping the characters Camille and Professeur Kopolski smuggle their heavy water out of Nazi hands.
It’s as if Rappeneau’s Frédéric represents the maturation of film itself — he can’t help but outgrow Viviane’s sensational splash and lack of depth.
Bon Voyage asks whose side entertainment is really on when it comes to the realities of life, love and death.
In French with subtitles. Showing at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple, west of Telegraph). Call 248-263-2111.
Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].