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Photograph by Jerome Prebois

Minister of Affairs: Gérard Depardieu cozies up to Isabelle Adjani.

Veni, Vidi, Vichy

Isabelle Adjani toys with murder in World War II-era French farce 'Bon Voyage'

By Richard von Busack

AN EXAMPLE of what Edmund Wilson meant, after seeing a late-period Sasha Guitry film, when he groused about "Europe strutting its tired old stuff." Bon Voyage's intended-for-export title ("What's next: "Ooh La La"? as critic Steve Warren once put it) is a harbinger of the weary farce to come, in which a famous, feather-brained Parisian movie actress named Viviane (Isabelle Adjani) shoots an unwanted lover in a fit of pique.

Her besmitten former boyfriend and patsy, a poor writer named Frédéric (Gregori Derangère), is called in to dispose of the cadaver. Unfortunately, he ends up in jail for the killing. Months later, the outside world intrudes: it's 1940, and the German army is preparing to brush aside these petty matters. Freed from jail as part of the pre-invasion panic, Frédéric encounters Viviane again, this time in an overcrowded hotel in Bordeaux, where seemingly half the population of Paris has fled from the Nazis in panic.

Viviane has a new protector--a French cabinet minister (Gérard Depardieu, whose sparse hair is swept back, making him look amusingly like Lyndon Johnson). In the meantime, a nuclear scientist, his pretty but drabbed-down daughter (Virginie Ledoyen, the ingénue from 8 Women) and a carload of heavy water arrive in this Nazi spy-ridden city.

Depardieu, as the banana-spined politician ready to go Vichy, makes for a nice parallel with this go-along-to-get-along actress. Adjani, playing dumb and wide-eyed, dithers and raises her voice up an octave, but this (of course) quite beautiful woman doesn't manifest that vulnerability that really makes men fall for this act. A highlight of the film is the shrugging criminal, a Jean Gabin type played by Yvan Attal.

Director and co-writer Jean-Paul Rappaneau has been around since Belmondo's heyday (he directed the bright Bond spoof L'Homme de Rio), but his latest works have included the waxworky, rhyming-translated Cyrano de Bergerac and The Horseman on the Roof: the kind of movies intended to save the French film industry, which instead are finishing it off.

Bon Voyage (Unrated; 114 min.), directed by Jean-Paul Rappeneau, written by Gilles Marchand, Patrick Modiano, Julien Rappeneau, Jean-Paul Rappeneau and Jérôme Tonnerre, photographed by Thierry Arbogast and starring Isabelle Adjani and Grégori Derangère, opens Friday at the Los Gatos Cinema and at the Century 25 in San Jose.

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From the April 7-14, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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