Simon is released from prison after having served a seven year stretch for an audacious
jewel robbery at Cannes in 1966. He returns to Paris, hoping to meet up with his
accomplice, Charlot (who managed to escape with the stolen jewels) and a young antique
dealer, Françoise, with whom he is hoping to start a new life. However, things
have changed a great deal whilst Simon was in prison - and the former crook cannot be
sure that either Charlot or Françoise has kept faith with him. Simon
casts his mind back seven years, to the robbery he had planned with such precision, and
to his first meeting with Françoise...
In typical Lelouch fashion, La Bonne année
takes in a wide spectrum of genres
but ultimately resolves itself as a humane love story which touchingly brings together
a man and a woman from wildly different milieus. The crime thriller element of the
film is meticulously crafted, in a precise, detached style which is reminiscent of the
works of Jean-Pierre Melville. There are some nice satirical touches and indeed
a great deal of reflection on changing attitudes over the seven year span covered by the
film. Although it is a curious mixed bag of a film, making heavy use of flashbacks,
it is - paradoxically - one of Lelouch's most focused and coherent films. Less deliberately
artistic than some of his other works (which rely far more on cinematographic gimmickry
than content), La Bonne année
reveals in its director a discipline and humanity
which few give him credit for.
In common with his New Wave contemporaries, Lelouch was a great experimenter of the cinematic
form, and his experience as a cinematographer gave him more freedom than most to try out
novel ways of making a film. The film starts and ends with present-day scenes filmed
in black-and-white, which could just be mistaken for a late 1950s policier
were not for the constantly roving camera. The camera movement becomes more erratic
as the subject being film becomes more agitated, a devise which Lelouch uses frequently
in his films and which generally works well to create a sense of panic or excitement.
The film's longest segment is the lengthy flashback to 1966, which is filmed (gorgeously)
in colour, very much in the style of a contemporary policier. To complicate
matters further, there are additional flashbacks (including flashbacks within flashbacks),
which are intended to follow the train of mind of the central character Simon, often reinforcing
his sense of self-doubt. However, for most spectators, the biggest surprise
comes at the start of the film, in which the opening credits are played over a sequence
from Lelouch's 1966 film Un homme et une femme.
You can imagine the director
justifying that decision (and a subsequent critique of that film which later crops up
in the film) with the words "Cannes" and "1966", but it still feels a tad self-indulgent,
even for Lelouch.
The star of La Bonne année
is Lino Ventura, an Italian-born actor who made
it big in French cinema in the 1950s, playing pretty much the kind of role he plays in
this film - a rather tough but sympathetic gangster-type with a wry sense of humour.
Ventura manages to buck his own stereotypical image by playing a romantic leader with
conviction and charm, working well with his delightful co-star, Françoise Fabian.
The repartee between Ventura and Charles Gérard is also amusing, and Ventura's
impersonation of an elderly man has to be seen to be believed.
All in all, La Bonne année
has to be one of Claude Lelouch's best films,
in which the director's legendary artistic flair works well in complementing a well-written
script. Beautifully photographed and well-acted, it tells an engaging story which
will appeal as much to fans of the classic French crime-thriller as to devotees of the
Nouvelle Vague romantic drama.
The above article was written for filmsdefrance.com and should not be reproduced in any medium without the author's permission.