Review: Coup de Chance — Movies for the Rest of Us with Bill Newcott

Woody Allen’s 50th film hints that this may well be the final major project of one of the past century’s most prolific and consistently accomplished movie makers.

Coup de Chance (MPI International)

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Coup de Chance

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Rating: PG-13

Run Time: 1 hour 33 minutes

Stars: Lou de Laâge, Niels Schneider, Melvil Poupaud

Writer/Director: Woody Allen


When he was primarily a standup comic in the early 1960s, Woody Allen used to tell a funny story about a moose hunting mishap in Upstate New York. His 50th film ends on a note that echoes that joke; a hint that this may well be the final major project of one of the past century’s most prolific and consistently accomplished movie makers.

They talk about “great” Woody Allen films, “good” Woody Allen films, and “okay” Woody Allen films. You won’t find many movie fans who will cite “bad” Woody Allen films. (Aside from his experimental first effort, What’s Up, Tiger Lily?, every single one of Allen’s features rates “Fresh” on the Rotten Tomatoes website. Not even Scorsese or Coppola can say that.)

Coup de Chance, a comic thriller set in Paris — with a French-speaking cast — is a good Woody Allen film. In many ways, it’s a very good one.

As in many of his best films, in Coup de Chance (“Stroke of Luck”), Allen places a brilliant, conflicted woman front and center.  Lou de Laâge (The Mad Women’s Ball) stars as Fanny, an accomplished art dealer married to a successful businessman named Jean (Melvil Poupaud). Asked what her husband does for a living, Fanny replies with the sum total of her knowledge: “He makes rich people richer.”

Indeed, Jean is a mystery man not only to Fanny, but also to all the couple’s friends, who know only that a) Jean is mind-bogglingly wealthy and b) his business partner disappeared mysteriously some years earlier.

Heading for the art gallery one morning, Fanny literally bumps into an old school acquaintance, Alain (Niels Schneider, Sympathy for the Devil). He seems suspiciously prepared for this supposedly chance encounter, confessing within minutes that he’d always had a crush on her, his first marriage has collapsed, and he’d like to have lunch with her.

Attentive as her hubby is, Fanny nevertheless feels detached from him, largely due to his secretive business life. Alain, a struggling author, reminds her of those bohemian high school days — and before long they’re locked in a steamy affair, meeting in his La Boehme-like loft or stealing lunch in public parks far from her workplace.

Of course, Jean finds out. Also of course, he is a very dangerous man to trifle with — and Allen concocts a nifty cat-and-mouse scenario, with each character wondering what the others know…and whether or not the others know what they know.

In another director’s hands, the whole thing would be a super-serious saga with requisite jump scares, dark rooms, and sinister music. But Allen wants us to have fun with his story of lust, deception, and murder: His characters cheerfully amble along the road to perdition, strolling lovely Parisian cityscapes or basking in golden, window-framed sunsets. The protagonists are essentially sweet; the villains are likeable despite themselves. And even during the perilous finale — the scene that harkens back to Allen’s standup days — the soundtrack bops with the music of a jazzy vibraphone.

You don’t make 50 movies — many of them consensus classics — without knowing exactly what you’re doing. The creative knock on Woody Allen for the past decade or so has been the inescapable fact that his movies are so, well, Allenesque. And, true, there’s not a frame of Coup de Chance that does not identify itself as a Woody Allen creation: Trappings of wealth abound, but the true happiness of the rich is forever in question. Women and men flail pitifully as they try, often comically, to understand each other. The dialogue is fearlessly direct. There’s a central philosophical question: in this case, the terrifying random nature of life — the way one minor decision can determine every facet of your future.

And then there’s one of Allen’s most distinctive conceits: a Greek chorus of minor characters who chatter about the central figures, filling in their backgrounds and speculating about their motivations (there’s even one French actor here who resembles, in appearance and function, Allen’s longtime favorite supporting player, Wallace Shawn).

At 88, Allen is something beyond merely a master of his craft. His camera is consistently in exactly the right place. When the camera moves, he retains perfect composition (more than one tracking shot here seems to be an homage to the late French auteur Jean-Luc Godard). His scenes end at precisely the right moment. And most importantly, perhaps no writer/director is as economical a storyteller (anything much longer than 90 minutes from Allen qualifies as an epic).

The fact that this film is in French, a language Allen doesn’t even speak — well, that’s just showing off.

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  1. For the record, Allen does speak French reasonably well. But he’s not funny when speaking French because the vocabulary and rhythms are so different from English. I attended several press conferences of his in Paris in the 1990s and we were all happy when he reverted to his native English and an interpreter.

    Allen remains a living God in France. “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan” just finished a 3 year long revival run in Paris. One in 10 Parisians bought a ticket to “A Rainy Day in New York” — a film that for a goodly while an American could only see by getting on a plane where it was part of the in-flight entertainment.

    Strangely though, most French critics disliked “Coup de Chance.” The imaginary New York they had loved for decades didn’t “translate” when Woody gave us an imaginary high gloss Paris.

    It should be noted that this is very much an A-list French cast. None of these people have trouble finding work and all participated because they knew appearing in a Woody Allen film would be a plus on their resumes.


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