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Bon Voyage

Bon Voyage has all the trappings of a good farce, a varied cast, interlocking stories, murder, romance, and war, but it never quite gets there. The story will start moving quickly, the music will speed up, and then everything slows down. A little bit later, the momentum will build again, only to inevitably slow down. The story feels drawn out a little too much. The cast is certainly game, but one wishes that things would move faster and more would happen. So while Bon Voyage bills itself as a classic French farce, it feels like half of one. Most of the action takes place at a hotel in Bordeaux, as Germans march their way across France. Frederic (Gregori Derangere, The Landlords, Officer's Ward) is the 'central' character in that everything seems to revolve around him. He is a writer, deeply in love with Viviane Denvers (Isabelle Adjani, Monsieur Ibrahim, Adolphe), a shallow actress.

Viviane knows how much Frederic cares for her, so she calls for his help when a man dies mysteriously in her apartment. She isn't telling him everything, but he agrees to help dispose of the body, and ends up in jail for murder. Bon Voyage then jumps four months later, as World War II marches its way across Europe. The prison that Frederic is in is emptied, and he escapes with Raoul (Yvan Attal, My Wife is an Actress, And Now…Ladies and Gentlemen), who is handcuffed to him. As they try to make their way back to the city, they meet up with Camille (Virginie Ledoyen, 8 Women, The Beach), an attractive young college student that Raoul obviously admires. She is trying to get her professor (Jean-Marc Stehle, Adolphe, Chaos) and the only known samples of heavy water safely to England. They all end up in Bordeaux, where the government is trying to figure out what to do. Meanwhile, Viviane's new love is the Jean-Etienne Beaufort (Gerard Depardieu, CQ, The Closet), the Prime Minister. She is using him to avoid any sort of prosecution, and they both happen to be at the same hotel in Bordeaux that Frederic stumbles upon.

There is a lot going on here, and to his credit, director Jean-Paul Rappeneau (The Horseman on the Roof, Cyrano de Bergerac), who co-wrote the screenplay with Gilles Marchand (Tender Souls, With a Friend Like Harry), Patrick Modiano (The Son of Gascogne, Yvonne's Perfume), Julien Rappeneau (Mais Qui a Tue Pamela Rose?), and Jerome Tonnerre (On Guard, Once Upon an Angel) manages to create a large number of distinct characters and successfully weave the stories together. Rappeneau jumps quickly from one subplot to the next, for a while forcing the audience to catch up with him. Yet, despite his pacing, Bon Voyage still feels like it lumbers a long at some points. Tighter editing would cut down on the running time and add to this sense of impending dread that he wants to convey, and only sometimes makes it to the screen. The ending is something of a let down also. The tone of the film is also unsure. There is a lot of humor, and romance, but Rappeneau never lets loose and allows emotions to take over. Everything is restrained, and worse, some of the acting looks mechanical.

Still, it is fun watching the actors go at one another. Adjani is the most watchable, only because her character is so blatantly superficial. She is obviously using all the men around her, and they seem to know, yet are so far gone under he spell that it doesn't seem to matter to them. Adjani uses broad strokes to play Viviane for laughs. The most enthusiastic character is Raoul. Attal gives him this boundless energy and optimism, tempered a little with his jealousy for the inevitable attraction between Frederic and Camille. Derangere's character, unfortunately, comes off as something of a sap. He loves Vivian against his better judgment, and this love for her causes some of the plot twists that occur in the film. It's a given that he will eventually go for Camille, but this comes a little too late in the film. By then, the audience will have judged him a patsy. Derangere won Most Promising Actor at the 2004 Cesar Awards (Ledoyen was actually nominated three years in a row for Most Promising Actress in the mid-nineties), and Bon Voyage garnered two other wins and a whopping eight other nominations (including big ones for Best Film, Director, Writing, and Attal for Supporting Actor). It probably didn't deserve this much acclaim, as it borders on being a light trifle, but it is a fun trip nevertheless.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 54 minutes, French with English subtitles, Rated PG-13 for some violence.

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