Destiny and Passion Guide the Intriguing COUP DE CHANCE

“Would you want a different life?”

The first time Woody Allen ever captured Paris on film was in his 1996 musical comedy Everyone Says I Love You. It’s difficult to forget the magic felt at seeing Allen and Goldie Hawn (who played his ex-wife in the film) as they walked along the Seine while she sang “I’m Through with Love” in the most exquisite of ways. As soon as she finishes singing, the two begin dancing to the music before Hawn immediately starts to levitate in one of the most magical and cinematic sequences Allen ever put to film. It was an enchanting end to an enchanting film and for many (myself included), it was the first time seeing where Allen’s filmmaking sensibilities could go when he ventured outside his beloved New York. Nothing could eclipse the beauty Allen captured as Hawn flew over him with the deeply romantic song playing and the picturesque Seine serving as their background. Now, Allen has returned to the iconic city once more for a tale that is as far away from that film as can be but shows how inspired and alive Allen can be whenever he sets foot in one of the most romantic cities in the world.

In Coup de Chance, Allen’s 50th effort, a random meeting on the Paris streets between two former classmates, Fanny (Lou de Laage) and Alain (Niels Schneider), quickly develops into a passionate affair. While Fanny finds herself doing everything she can to try and keep the affair a secret, her husband Jean (Melvil Poupaud) starts to suspect something is amiss as their happy marriage starts to become a little shaky. Eventually, fate takes hold and sends these three people to places none of them see coming. 

The Allen-ness of the entire film can be felt almost immediately. Always the economical filmmaker, Coup de Chance doesn’t waste any time getting going as the director eases into the story with that very specific Allen pace. The European background is the perfect landscape for some of the film’s dark humor, which Allen uses sparingly, having a sharp instinct for when it’s welcome and when it’s needed. Obviously, the most prominent area where the humor is at its most present is in the dialogue, which is an abundance of classic Allen quips like: “I feel like having children and all I have is anxiety.” But there’s a dry cleverness at play here as well, such as when a minor character comments: “Thank God for gossip. Otherwise, we’d be stuck with real facts.” The vintage American jazz musical cues are trademark Allen and remarkably work well in the French atmosphere as does the sumptuous cinematography by frequent Allen collaborator Vittorio Storaro, who is still at the top of his game. One shot, in particular, sees Jean (in full silhouette) make an ominous phone call while the long apartment hallway behind him is draped in an otherworldly blue glow. Finally, while the mechanics of the affair in the film and its aftermath are not fresh narrative territory for Allen, he manages to deliver the unexpected by honing in on the excitement, humanity, passion, and overall suspense that a person in that situation experiences to such a degree, we feel as if we’re participants ourselves. It soon becomes our affair as well.

It’s the way Allen plays with the emotional longing of his characters that makes Coup de Chance a far more intriguing film than its mere logline would suggest. At the start, it’s nostalgia and the dangerous power of the past that pulls Fanny towards Alain, essentially driving the first half of the story. Seeing Alain is almost like an out-of-body experience for her where the person she’s become is looking at the person she once was. The way Fanny suddenly finds herself drawn to Alain is very organic and in its own way, intoxicating as the past oftentimes can be. At the root of the affair, however, is Fanny trying to go back and live an alternate life, the one that was waiting for her down the road she didn’t take. The two sides of life that Fanny is caught between can be found in the two men in her life. One is a pragmatist, while the other is a romantic. Yet, in some ways, Alain may as well not even exist. He’s almost like a beautiful, dreamy catalyst for Fanny, the trigger that causes her to look at the life she has and question how much she actually wants it. It’s a questioning that’s only accentuated by a husband who comes across as superficial and compulsive. It feels far too easy to simply label Alain as possessive or jealous, but there’s no question he’s definitely consumed by Fanny to the point where his grip on sanity costs him more than he ever bargained for. What’s interesting to note is the change in the dynamics when Jean finds out about the guilt-ridden Fanny’s affair. Both adopt an existence where neither one is flat-out lying so much as they are pretending and deluding themselves as much as they are each other.

Coup de Chance belongs to de Laage. She’s easily one of the most magnetic and ethereal figures in modern French cinema who also carries with her a desperation that works in tandem with her radiant presence. De Laage makes the case for Fanny, allowing us to understand her, the decisions she’s made, and her struggle with all of it. Poupaud, meanwhile, does his best not to portray Jean as a conventional villain, instead giving him subtle layers to show a man who reacts the only way he knows how when faced with the life he created falling apart in front of him. The performance is a great contrast to Schneider’s, who injects Alain with the kind of dreamy air a person such as he would naturally carry with him wherever he went. Finally, Valerie Lemercier as Camille, Fanny’s mother adds just the right amount of electricity to the film’s third act, almost walking away with it in the process.  

Extramarital affairs in cinema are nothing new, but there’s something about the way Allen gets into the intricacies and heart of the one he’s created here. He delves into the whirlwind of all the emotions that come with such an act in a way that makes the most standard of setups feel both incredibly passionate and suspenseful. The last time the writer/director experimented with the slightly philosophical, it was 2010’s underrated You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, a comedy dealing with a group of Londoners and their differing beliefs in a higher power pulling the strings of their lives. While that film showed its participants engage in a farce of sorts, Coup de Chance looks at virtually the same elements in a darker, yet more romantic fashion. Besides the titular chance, there are dashes of luck and irony at play here, both of which Allen engages with in a keenly perceptive way. Coup de Chance manages to delicately put its characters’ ability to surrender to all of the above to the test by asking them to face the consequences and accept a force greater than them. In this case, Woody Allen.

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