In Bon Voyage the 70-year-old French writer-turned-director Jean-Paul Rappeneau sets out to explore a pivotal period from his youth, the turmoil that besieged France in June 1940 when Germany invaded at the beginning of World War II. For Rappeneau, it is also a labour of love and a return to a subject that he dealt with in his first film, A Matter Of Resistance, set in 1944 towards the end of the war.

Much of the action in Bon Voyage centres on Bordeaux, where the French parliament gathered after abandoning Paris and the aristocratic set soon followed, reputedly stuffing themselves into two hotels and complaining about the lack of service. Rappeneau saw the opportunity for comedy in this situation and says he took the lead from the American director Howard Hawks’s famous saying, Give me a good drama and I’ll make a good comedy. Mixing drama and comedy whilst looking at the Nazi occupation of France would have fallen over in the hands of a less skilled director. Cleverly, Rappeneau links his film to elements of The Rules Of The Game, the celebrated Jean Renoir film that was released within a few weeks of the declaration of war and a film that is seen by many, especially the French, as the last hurrah of a society on the brink of catastrophe.

Rappeneau is best known to Western audiences for directing Cyrano De Bergerac (1990), which received many nominations and is his most successful film to date. Bon Voyage, which opened this year’s French Film Festival in Sydney, received C?r nominations for best film, direction and writing.

Bon Voyage features a stellar cast. Beautiful Isabelle Adjani, who is nearly 50 and is not seen on the big screen often enough these days, plays the actress at the centre of the drama. Adjani received Oscar nominations for Truffaut’s L’Histoire D’Ad? H and Nuytten’s Camille Claudel. Virginie Ledoyen, one of the stars of Fran?s Ozon’s 8 Femmes, has received many C?r nominations and is shaping up to be a French actress with a big future. Evergreen G?rd Depardieu, who received an Oscar nomination for Cyrano De Bergerac, plays the politician and, oddly enough, American actor/writer Peter Coyote plays an English journalist. Gr?ri Derang?, a relative newcomer, is excellent as the central character and Rappeneau’s alter ego, a role that won him a C?r for Most Promising Actor. He’s also quite cute and is seen as the front-runner of a new group of French leading men being unleashed on the screen.

Rappeneau’s film is old-fashioned entertainment, a lightweight romp through history, a comedy of errors with a dash of melodrama, suspense and romance all thrown in for good measure.

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