Woody Allen has long been a darling of the Venice Film Festival, where films such as The Curse of the Jade Scorpion and Sweet and Lowdown have premiered. He returns to the event with Coup de Chance, his 50th film and his first in French. While not being the debacle served up by fellow renegade Roman Polanski, neither does it touch on the greatness of some of the American director’s earlier work. That didn’t stop critics applauding his name before the film had even started, such is the reverence he enjoys in Italy; political correctness be damned!
The film looks and sounds familiar: its opening title credits are in the same font, white against a black background, as all his previous; smooth jazz tones provide the overture. And despite being in French, the story is also a familiar one in Allen’s cinematic universe (he wrote the screenplay, originally in English – he doesn’t speak French): the theme is marital infidelity and the ensuing lies and crimes. The film opens on a Paris street, where Fanny (Lou de Laâge) encounters an old schoolmate Alain (Niels Schneider). He confesses his schoolboy crush on her and recounts how he imagined her as a rebel and a bohemian.
Instead, Fanny is now married to Jean (Melvil Poupaud), who has one of those financial jobs that entail making money for rich people. In the process, he has made himself extremely wealthy, though there is gossip about whether he was involved in his erstwhile partner’s untimely disappearance and death.
Inevitably, Alain and Fanny embark on an affair, only for Jean to get an inkling of what is going on. His reaction is swift and would generally have no place in a comedy, but Allen has successfully trodden a similar path in the wonderful Crimes and Misdemeanors. This film doesn’t even remotely reach the heights of that movie.
One issue is the screenplay, which hammers home characters’ traits repeatedly: Alain telling Fanny about his crush, Fanny telling Jean she is uncomfortable with extravagant displays of wealth, multiple characters talking about trophy wives, Jean’s unproven culpability, and so forth.
The Frenchness is also laid on a little too thick, with the wealthy tucking into foie gras, lobster and frogs’ legs. Fanny takes the longest lunch breaks imaginable and the Paris she and Alain inhabit is one of quaint bistros, chichi markets and verdant parks. Alain is a poor author living in a garret, which turns out to be extremely spacious and way out of his financial league in the real world. There are also inconsistencies: Jean dislikes Japanese food but later states he wants to take his wife to a new Japanese restaurant. If it’s deliberate, it doesn’t show.
In fact, Allen takes a few potshots at the rich. While downing fine wines and dining on venison, they bemoan the dearth of decent staff – “It’s so hard to find good help” – and chat about buying Marie Antoinette’s earrings or going on fabulous holidays. Yet he also seems to relish their world for there is nothing ugly or gritty here, not even so much as a supermarket. Instead, he prefers the bucolic idyll that is Jean and Fanny’s country home or the parks and pretty corners of the French capital.
But let’s face it, social realism has never been Allen’s thing. Better to sit back and enjoy the traditional farce that he has concocted. Poupaud turns in a great performance as the villain of the piece as does Valérie Lemercier as Fanny’s mother and would-be Jessica Fletcher. Coup de Chance was never going to dazzle but it doesn’t entirely disappoint. As long as you like very Woody Allen Woody Allen films.