Venice 2023 review: Coup de chance (Woody Allen)

Coup de chance is Allen’s best film since 2013’s Blue Jasmine.

Fanny (Lou de Laâge) has all the luck in the world. An adoring (and wealthy) husband, a beautiful Paris apartment, friends in the French capital’s upper crust, plenty of trips to the countryside to hunt and hike. But is she really that lucky? Jean (Melvil Poupaud), her husband, is possessive and obsessed with money and status; their friends, who really are Jean’s friends, are boring and self-centred; and Fanny hates the outdoors. A chance meeting with an old classmate, budding writer Alain (Niels Schneider) who admits he always had a crush on her, turns for Fanny into an escape from the suffocating life she has slipped into without noticing. Frequent picnic lunches in the park and her starting to wear the turtleneck sweaters he admired so much back then are clear signals that she is falling for Alain. Sure enough, they soon start an affair.

Fanny’s increasingly erratic and evasive behaviour doesn’t go unnoticed by Jean, who hires a detective agency to get to the bottom of his suspicions. The detective (a small but funny role by Anne Loiret) shows quick results, pinpointing Alain as Fanny’s secret lover. Jean hires two goons to make Alain disappear from the face of the earth; it is suggested this isn’t the first time he has enlisted them for murder. Fanny is flabbergasted and hurt at Alain leaving her without a word, but eventually sees her fling as a folly and decides to give her marriage a new lease on life. Alain’s complete disappearance keeps nagging at Fanny’s mother Camille (Valérie Lemercier) though, triggered by a story about a similar thing happening to Jean’s business partner a few years earlier. The mother-in-law starts snooping around…

Having become too controversial in the US to work stateside, legendary director Woody Allen decided to shoot his latest film Coup de chance (A Stroke of Luck), the 50th in his extensive oeuvre, in Paris. Although the film was originally planned in English, Allen chose to switch to French, a first for him, as he was finishing the script. Language turns out not to matter that much, as Coup de chance is unmistakably a Woody Allen film. The most notable change is the absence of his witticisms; in their place we get a distinct French ‘tone’, for lack of a better word, layered over an amusing, paranoia-filled murder mystery in which luck and chance play a large role. The paranoia is heightened by several deep focus close-ups usually absent in Allen’s work, giving Coup de chance the slightest of noirish undertones. But light comedy is still the main tune, despite a murder or two.

Allen’s situational comedy and sharp dialogues transcend language, as the actors clearly have a lot of fun with the material given to them. In particular Poupaud rolls around in Jean’s hubris with abandon. Schneider’s character is the weakest, his Alain an almost stereotypical French bohemian who acts as a plot device for the triangle formed by Fanny, Jean, and Camille. Allen can’t seem to avoid the stereotypes in general, because his Paris, like in Midnight in Paris, is seen through the romantic lens of a tourist who has only seen the good bits. His recent partner-in-crime behind the camera Vittorio Storaro (this is their fifth collaboration) fortunately shoots most of it in neutral light so as to not overdo the rosy-eyed look at France’s capital; it is the Italian cinematographer’s least expressive work for Allen, but it does turn Coup de chance into a surprisingly contemporary French film, albeit with an 87-year-old American director at the helm.

Within his vast body of work Coup de chance is definitely not one of the top entries; his earlier dabblings in the murder mystery genre, be it the serious Match Point or the hilarious Scoop, top this French effort with ease. But Coup de chance is Allen’s best film since 2013’s Blue Jasmine, give or take a Café Society. Très drôle, as the French would say, and well plotted and paced with a final twist of irony that gives Jean the comeuppance he deserves, the film is proof that most of the old white men at this festival (that includes Frederick Wiseman and the sadly departed William Friedkin) still have cinematic life in them.