It looks upon your gaze with friendly eyes, a warmth leading your way into the 51st annual NZIFF. La Belle Époque, stylised as films rose tinted wire frames and horn rims, fell out of the Cannes selection into our hands and graced the mighty civic theatre, it’s glossy starry ceiling mirroring the memoriam put before us in Nicolas Bedos' most recent outing.
"The multiple narratives; whilst often falling thin; offer the chance to approach nostalgia each a with different lens."
Set in the modern day, La Belle follows Viktor (Daniel Auteuil), an apparently struggling sketch artist, comic and father, as he negotiates his way through a diverging marriage, his sons Oedipus complex, and declining career health. Maintaining his lowly characteristic wit, Viktor ends up on the raw end of modern romantic drama.
In this turn, he takes impetus from his sons generous offer of a “sequence” sponsored by his good friends company Time Travelers who offer the opportunity to revisit any period and be any character, playing host to nazi re-enactors and Hemingway fetishists alike - the elite few who can afford the service can recreate any moment in history in meticulous theatrical detail.
Viktor chose to return to when he first met his wife, May 1974, and through his drawings, this was re-enacted perfectly.
As with all westworld-esque narratives, where confusion and confrontation of memory really drive the plot forwards, La Belle Époque treads a really fine line that will cause you to question the integrity of the plot, and it’s natural to pick holes at the effect of this compendium of timelines. But Bedos uses this storytelling mechanism to balance multiple storyline’s, whilst mostly host to Viktor and his nostalgia, you’re witness to the struggles of Marianne (Fanny Ardant), Antoine's (Guillame Canet) short temper and his love for Margot (Doria Tiller), and the conflict that this presents as she portrays the young wife Viktor is longing to meet again. The multiple narratives, whilst often falling thin, offer the chance to approach nostalgia each with a different lens. Whether you’re approaching a first date, a 50th birthday, or an anniversary ending in zero, La Belle can be a more important film than first impressions suggest.
It is this method through which; seeing nostalgia in either tyranny, bliss, or terror; we can fully understand the meaning behind La Belle Epoque. Whilst Viktor tries to recapture his fondest of memories, we also trip over the errs in judgement from Antoine and Margot as they tie in with Viktor's "simulation", and Viktor eventually confuses his nostalgia for the real thing. If it weren't for Marianne's regret and eventual return, we might've seen a Viktor torn from his own memory and wholly lost in the fictional world his nostalgia has framed for him.
Commercially, this film has pulled off a satisfying and thought provoking attempt at unravelling the riddle of memory; La Belle Epoque hits home on one point and does it well. Tempering the nature of memory, longing, or love, in the intangible place called nostalgia, we often find less time for our own love, which is where La Belle Epoque comes to a fulfilling finish.