Bon Voyage, an entertaining farce about a rather grim time, is a French screwball comedy with a somewhat Casablanca-like narrative. Set in the summer of 1940 as the Germans are poised to overtake Paris, it offers a mildly satirical view of how individuals respond to sinister moments in history. The English-subtitled film, directed by Jean-Paul Rappeneau from a script he co-wrote, screens at 7 and 9:15 p.m. on July 24 at Dartmouth College's Loew auditorium in Hanover, New Hampshire.
Isabelle Adjani -- who'll be honored at this year's Montreal World Film Festival -- has a radiant, possibly Botoxed face that perfectly captures the vain self-absorption of the central character. The 48-year-old actress portrays Viviane, a femme fatale of indeterminate age whose lovers, particularly those with wealth and power, invariably shield her from harsh reality. A star of the cinema, she is transparently manipulative, but men of that era are unable to resist her charms.
Frederic (the delightful Gregori Derangere) is one of those hapless suckers. More than a decade younger than Viviane, he's a writer with little money and few connections. She knows his most useful quality is a willingness to do whatever it takes to make her happy. This notion lands him in prison, after she apparently kills another suitor and persuades Frederic to take the blame in order to shield her from bad publicity.
But he escapes from jail just as the tanks roll into the City of Light. On a crowded train to the as-yet-unoccupied Bordeaux, where at least half of France also seems headed, Frederic meets Camille (Virginie Ledoyen). She's the lovely assistant to an elderly Jewish scientist (Jean-March Stehle) who must flee the country to protect his hide and his supply of "heavy water," an ingredient for making atomic bombs, from the Nazis.
Espionage may be in the air when an American reporter (Peter Coyote) begins befriending the protagonists, as they become entangled in a chaotic city suddenly populated by refugees of all stripes. Resistance fighters plot clandestine actions, ordinary criminals seek moneymaking opportunities, and everyday citizens rich and poor just want to board the next boat for England.
The Minister of Justice (Gerard Depardieu), another of Viviane's ardent patsies, is also on the scene. He's among the exiled government officials willing to collaborate with the Third Reich -- just the type of Frenchmen today's right-wing hawks tend to call "cheese eating surrender monkeys."
Some critics have unfavorably and unfairly compared Bon Voyage to similarly themed films in different genres. One even complained that it's not The Pianist, Roman Polanksi's sober Holocaust drama. Merde! This is simply an old-fashioned spy movie enlivened by wonderfully manic performances, Gabriel Yared's evocative score and plenty of panache.
Michael Tolkin, a 1974 Middlebury College grad, is a successful West Coast screenwriter now adapting a book about corporate espionage. The title: Paranoia. His sardonic wit spawned The Player -- both the script and the novel that inspired it. That hilarious 1992 Hollywood satire, directed by Robert Altman, was nominated for several Academy Awards. Once a folklore and religion major at the prestigious Vermont school, Tolkin made his own directorial debut 13 years ago with The Rapture, an offbeat tale about Christian fundamentalist beliefs.
Ex-Vermonter Martin Guigui -- who shot Wedding Band here several years before it was released in 2001 as My X-Girlfriend's Wedding Reception -- has directed a new release. Swing opened July 9 in New York City to primarily disappointing reviews. The indie romantic comedy, which stars Jacqueline Bisset, Tom Skerritt and legendary comic Jonathan Winters, adds a supernatural flourish to a story about the retro dance craze that swept the West Coast in the last decade. The Buenos Aires-born filmmaker, who now lives in California, is also a musician and son of former Vermont Symphony Orchestra maestro Efrain Guigui.
General Vincent Brooks, who appears in Control Room during several sequences devoted to media briefings, is the relative of a Vermont legislator. "He's my brother Leo's son," says Rep. Francis Brooks (D-Mont-pelier). "And Vincent's brother, also named Leo and also a general, is the commander of cadets at West Point." The documentary, playing at the Roxy in Burlington, observes news coverage of the Iraq invasion -- particularly by the Al Jazeera network -- from U.S. military headquarters in Qatar. Brooks says his nephew, who was born in Alaska, has left the Middle East and is now at the Pentagon. Please give our regards to Rummy.