60 something Victor Drumond (Daniel Auteuil) is a man who continues to live in the past.
He hasn’t and stubbornly refuses to embrace the digital age. Frankly, he has no desire to do so.
An artist – specifically an illustrator – he hasn’t worked in ages because society’s requirements have changed.
Ironically, his son Maxime (Michael Cohen) has gone the other way and become a highly successful producer.
Victor's wife Marianne (Fanny Ardant) – a psychologist – is fed up with his lack of interest in embracing technology and in engaging in conversation with their friends.
He bores her. In fact, she is having an affair with one of her patients, the guy – Francois (Denis Podalydes) – who last employed her husband and then dumped him.
One night it all becomes too much for her and she kicks Victor out.
Suddenly having to fend for himself, Victor takes up an earlier invitation from his son – given to him as a gift – and is, indeed, able to step back in time (well, sort of) by participating in a reproduction of the fondest memory of his past.
That was in the year 1974, when – at age 25 – he met the woman who would later become his wife.
The reproduction is being orchestrated by a man, Antoine Beck (Guillaume Canet), who specialises in these things – that is stage managing detailed period settings down to the nth degree with actors.
He is a childhood friend of Victor’s son and someone who Victor helped out by giving him a book he illustrated when Antoine was a lost soul at age 13 or 14.
Now, Antoine is riding the wave of huge success, working for wealthy clients.
Pedantic to a fault, Antoine has a fiery temper and pays out most on his on again, off again girlfriend and lover Margot (Doria Tillier), who – although forever drawn to Antoine – demands he treat her better.
Her latest assignment is to fill the role of the love of Victor’s life in 1974.
It gives Antoine newfound respect for her command of her craft.
With Victor gone and his wife, Marianne, now free to spend time with her lover, Francois, she quickly grows tired of the latter.
While her husband appears to be thriving, she begins reflecting on how things used to be ... with him in her life.
So it is that two couples' love is rekindled.
Such a clever, clever script, beautifully acted and so skilfully put together.
It is a balance between living in the moment – that is dealing with the here and now – and focusing on the past.
I believe the filmmakers got the mix spot on.
Younger and older performers alike act up a storm, inhabiting their characters like a second skin.
In many cases that involves acting as actors filling roles in specially staged, elaborate scenes that last for minutes on end.
What I particularly appreciated was the attention to detail.
In fact, it would be hard not to be impressed by what appears on screen.
It is important to note that there is a great deal of verbiage delivered, so concentration is essential to get the most out of La Belle Epoque, especially because it is subtitled. Blink too much and you could miss vital components.
Funny and sad in equal measure, this is filmmaking of the highest order, executed with dexterity and class.
The brainchild of writer and director Nicolas Bedos, whom I greatly admire for this work, I also “dips me lid” to the set designer and decorator and the costume designer, along with the cinematographer for doing such a fine job.
Rated M, La Belle Epoque scores an 8½ out of 10.