Monday, July 8, 2024

Movie Review: ‘Coup de Chance,’ by Woody Allen

There was a time when the release of virtually any Woody Allen movie would be enough to lure me into a theater. But I began to feel queasy after the messy fallout from his relationship with Mia Farrow, over three decades ago. I became even more reluctant in the last decade, as his films grew wispier and less original.

When the MeToo movement made it harder for Allen to line up stateside investors and outlets for his work, he looked abroad for countries that asked fewer questions about filmmakers’ private lives. He settled on France (home to Roman Polanski, whose legal and ethical difficulties with young women have been even worse than Allen's).

As a result, the Brooklyn native has gone far beyond merely filming in France with a largely English-speaking crew (as occurred with Midnight in Paris). Instead, he has directed an entirely Francophone set of film professionals—and without knowing any French.

So I paid scant attention last year, when Coup de Chance was pulled from the Cannes Film Festival for fear that allegations that Allen had molested stepdaughter Dylan Farrow in 1992 would distract attention from the artistic merits of the entire lineup. 

Though it eventually premiered at the Venice Film Festival last September, viewers did not have a chance to see it stateside until this spring, either streaming or in selected theaters. Start-to-finish subtitles didn't help in breaking out to a wider audience.

(I saw it at the Barrymore Film Center, a haven for revival, art-house, and independent cinema aficionados like me in Bergen County, NJ. You would be very lucky to see it anywhere else; it has come and gone in selected theaters in the blink of an eye.)

Predictably, Allen’s notoriety has colored how his new film would be perceived even before most people have had a chance to look at it. “Did he have any 13-year-old girls in it?” a close relative snickered. (The answer: no.)

Coup de Chance, translated into English as “Stroke of Luck,” counterparts the different attitudes toward fate held by the two men who vie for the love of Fanny (played by Lou de Laâge), a beautiful auction house worker: Her middle-aged husband Jean (played by Melvil Poupaud) believes there is no such thing as luck, and his own status—an affluent financial adviser who won the hand of Fanny—seems proof enough for him.

In contrast, the writer Alain (played by Niels Schneider) has encountered Fanny years after developing a crush on her while they were high school classmates in New York. His spontaneity and openness to experience appeal to the long-dormant bohemian instincts of Fanny, who has become bored with the carefully scheduled urban parties and country weekends of Jean.

Much of the film contains the kind of quiet foreboding (e.g., Jean’s love for hunting, and the mysterious fate of his onetime partner) that also characterized Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Point. 

With few of the memorable lines that fill so much of Allen's other work, I grew concerned that he might be simply regurgitating motifs from these earlier entries in what might be called his “Desire, Murder and Guilt” trilogy.

Even within this film, Allen repeats images and references, as if he didn’t want the least attentive viewer to overlook any symbolism.

Once wishes that Allen might have worked with a collaborator on the screenplay, as he did with Marshall Brickman on Sleeper, Annie Hall, and Manhattan, to rescue him from such redundancy, as well as various implausible plot developments.

But, though the screenplay doesn’t glitter, the production moves nimbly, carried along by the cinematography of Vittorio Storaro, the highly competent French cast, and Herbie Hancock’s cool, understated jazz standard “Cantaloupe Island.” 

And the ending still goes to show that Allen, long fascinated with magicians, still knows how to pull a welcome surprise on audiences.

Coup de Chance may well be the last film that Allen completes. Though he told Roger Friedman, in an April interview, that he has two other projects just waiting for someone to finance it, he does not seem to be pressing hard for it.

If this 50th film in his nearly six-decade career onscreen does turn out to be Allen’s finale, it’s not a bad one to bow out on. Against the odds, he’s come up with a French souffle counterpart to Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Point: light, delicate, and sensual.

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