Bad Luck Banging: Luck is a Fickle Mistress in Allen’s Amusing Gallic Debut
For his fiftieth (and rumored to be last) film, Woody Allen’s French language debut, Coup de chance (Stroke of Luck) also happens to be one of his most enjoyable offerings in the last half of his career. A crime comedy in the vein of Crimes & Misdemeanors (1989) and Match Point (2005), infidelity is once again the dramatic catalyst for a devious chain of events which results in an unpredictable denouement despite the best laid plans of all involved. As the title suggests, a chance reunion on the bustling streets of Paris between a pair of thirty-somethings who used to be students in New York spins into a consuming love affair, leading an aggressive, jealous spouse to violence. Amusing and littered with references to some of France’s greatest crime writers and directors, it would appear Allen’s cancellation in the US may have simultaneously generated the kind of friction which yields greater creative returns.
Fanny (Lou de Laâge) has a surprise encounter with Alain (Niels Schneider) on the street one day, a welcome reunion since they haven’t spoken since they were students. In the years that have passed, they’ve both been divorced once, with Fanny having recently married a second time, the older, wealthy Jean (Melvil Poupaud). Alain is now a writer, living in London, but finally overcoming the heartbreak of his first marriage, at least well enough to return to Paris. He confesses having had a deep seated crush on Fanny when they were in school together, and his ex-wife held a striking likeness to her, as well. They agree to meet for lunch, since Fanny’s office, where she works at an art auction gallery, is near his pied-a-terre. Frequent lunches soon lead to romantic explorations, and Fanny’s sudden late nights at work arouse Jean’s suspicion. Hiring a private investigator (Gregory Gadebois), his worst fears are confirmed. It appears Jean’s financial situation is the result of some past nefarious activities, and he hires an old ’employee,’ Dragos (Sam Mirhosseini) to kill Alain and dump him, along with all his belongings, into the Atlantic. Fanny believes her lover got cold feet since she expressed the desire to run away with him, and his absence causes immediate distress. Her mother (Valerie Lemercier), on one of her frequent visits, gets Fanny to confide in her. But the circumstances eventually begin to sound suspicious to the crime fiction lover, and as a good mother, she begins to snoop for answers.
Lou de Laâge, who’s graduated gracefully from ingenue to leading lady, is naively effervescent as Fanny (with a maiden name conjuring two French icons, Fanny Ardant and Jeanne Moreau), and there’s an automatic ease with her suddenly awakened interest in Niels Schneider’s Alain. They reminisce on the poetry of Jacques Prevert from their school days, whose “Autumn Leaves” is equally fitting for DP Vittorio Storaro’s autumnal rendering of both Paris and the countryside. The entire film is aglow, basking in the warm yellows of a summer’s fading sun, lighting their secretive afternoon trysts.
Prevert’s tenure as a screenwriter also comes to mind, especially his 1936 title written for Jean Renoir, The Crime of Monsieur Lange. Likewise, Allen gives a shout out to Georges Simenon, one of France’s premiere (and most prolific) mystery writers. But Coup de Chance actually feels like something from Claude Chabrol, in particular his 1969 classic Le Femme Infidele (which was remade by Adrian Lyne in the US as Unfaithful, 2002), where Michel Bouquet takes it upon himself to dispose of his wife Stephane Audran’s lover. Stephane Mallarme’s classic poem “The Swan” also gets an effective shout between the lovers as an impetus to run away together before life freezes them to their current spots (and also an ominous precursor for what happens).
Melvil Poupaud appears to be in his terrible husband era, with Jean resembling a string of recent toxic lovers he’s played, including One Fine Morning (2022), Just the Two of Us (2023) and Jeanne du Barry (2023), all of those notably directed by women who began as actors before developing prolific directorial careers (Mia Hansen-Love, Valerie Donzelli, and Maiwenn). This trajectory feels reminiscent of someone like the equally dapper Laurence Harvey, who also channeled an odd mix of sinister charm.
Allen isn’t exactly keeping any secrets, as Jean’s murky business dealings have created inextricable rumors trailing him everywhere he goes. Allen’s droll comic universe returns to the shape of yore regarding how Jean just cannot help himself, immediately making moves to silence his pesky mother-in-law, Valerie Lemercier, the major comic scene stealer here (especially compared to Elsa Zylberstein, confined to one of those set dressing roles Allen frequently populates with notables). The film’s jazzy score also lends itself to feeling both playful and dangerous, and despite it’s overt themes, Coup de Chance manages to feel surprising and fresh up and through a fitting finale.
Reviewed on September 4th at the 2023 Venice Film Festival – Out of Competition. 96 Mins