Immersive theatre experiences come in all spectrum of scope between mediocre and mind blowing. Anyone who caught A Drowned Man by the acclaimed Punchdrunk Theatre in the UK and USA will find little to compare it to.
What filmmaker Nicolas Bedos has created in La Belle Epoque, brings the immersive to a personalised level. Entrepreneur Antoine (Guillaume Canet) runs a highly successful theatre company whereby well-cashed patrons request a time period or historical event they wish to return to as bystander or active participant. Through meticulous research, attention to detail and astute prop-buying, Antoine recreates elaborate sets and casts players who are versed in the lives of those his patrons wish to portray. At the height of his success, he invites Victor (Daniel Auteuil) – who was the inspiration for his success – a time travelling gift card to use in any way he wishes.
Victor, a 60ish technophobic cartoonist, is struggling both professionally and personally. His work is evaporating with the growing dominance of everything digital and his wife Marianne (Fanny Ardant) loathes him. He initially discards Antoine’s invitation, but it suddenly comes sharply back into focus when Marianne tosses him out of the house and discovers her ongoing affair with one of his best friends. With gusto, Victor accepts the invite and decides to return to the most memorable week of his existence, 40 years earlier, when he first met the love of his life.
Victor tells the story of their meeting through his beautiful illustrations. Each provides the detail needed by the crew and cast that help create the scenes as they actually happened back in 1974. Margot (Doria Tillier) – Antoine’s on-off girlfriend – is cast as the young Marianne. With the help of an earpiece to relay Antoine’s voice directly to her, Margot talks the talk and walks the walk right on cue. It doesn’t take long before her and Antoine’s relationship woes begin to mingle with the story at hand, and Victor becomes entangled in Margot’s own personal tale.
The focus on Victor here gets lost and the story goes down a bit of a meandering path. Fortunately for not too long however, before the film is back on track to find out how Victor’s step back in time impacts his unresolved issues with Marianne.
The elaborate sets are a feast for the eyes and would be fantastic if it could be experienced for real. The soundtrack is also a treat with originals by Dionne Warwick and Billie Holliday, as well as covers of past hits by Doria Tillier and Nicolas Bedos.
La Belle Epoque is now screening. Check your local guides for show times.
About La Belle Epoque
Running Time: 110 minutes
Language: French with English subtitles
Written and directed by Nicolas Bedos
Stars Daniel Auteuil, Guillaume Canet, Doria Tillier, Fanny Ardant