- La Belle Époque, M, 100 minutes. 4 stars
This delicious tale of lovers a half century apart is a postmodern romance. Part choose your own romantic adventure and era, part relationship drama.
Stalwart actors of French cinema Fanny Ardant and Daniel Auteuil feature as a jaded older married couple, in a story intertwined with an affair between a young couple. The latter, a young entrepreneur and one of the actors he casts, are played respectively by Guillaume Canet and Doria Tillier.
The two veteran actors are great foils for each other. Ardent is utterly believable as the vibrant, frustrated psychoanalyst wife, Marianne, while the chameleon Auteuil - unrecognisable in beard and moustache - is spot-on as Victor, the political cartoonist still valiantly wielding pencil and paper in the online world.
The new digital reality is something Victor doesn't get, or want a part in. As a technophobe who doesn't even own a cell phone, he is the butt of endless jokes from the earliest (somewhat off-putting) scenes.
The crisis in their marriage has reached a nadir but it is made in heaven for the scenarist. One of the funniest scenes takes place as they drive home in their Tesla. The self-drive vehicle lets them argue face-to-face, while the GPS tells Victor to extinguish his cigarette.
Marianne is openly having an affair with, of all people, Francois (Denis Podalydes), the editor who fired Victor.
At home in bed, Marianne is immersed somewhere inside her 3D goggles when Victor attempts to read his book. Things escalate cruelly for him and he is sent packing.
It's a sharp, witty screenplay from young director Nicolas Bedos, that plays both sides of the fence while also stepping back for perspective on how times have changed for each of them.
Were things left at that level alone, we may feel we have squirmed in front of films like La Belle Epoque many times before. Such domestic battles featured long ago in films like Mike Nichols' Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Ingmar Bergman's haunting Scenes from a Marriage.
La Belle Epoque does not do that kind of total meltdown. It has humour, generosity and a wistfulness that suits Auteuil's dreamer who, although his satiric instincts are well honed, is not quite tethered to the new realities. And the toothy Ardant and intriguing Arteuil are the best of sparring partners.
It is time travel that adds a delicious new dimension to this domestic drama when Victor is offered a trip to an era of his choosing. It come as a present from Antoine (Canet), who has been a friend of Maxime (Michael Cohen), the older couple's son, since childhood.
It seems that Victor gave Antoine a book that made a huge impression on the young man when he was a kid. Victor, he swears, saved his life.
Maxime works for Antoine in a business that offers "tailor-made historical events", professionally scripted and staged, for its customers to take part in. This could involve attending a party with William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway or it might simply offer an evening of conversation with a parent who has passed away.
Antoine, a scenarist and director, has a sharp eye for anachronisms and for actors that haven't got themselves into character. An immersive, attractively lit mise en scene all round is a pleasure to experience.
Victor's choice, as expected, is not wildly imaginative. He chooses the moment he met Marianne at a bar in Lyon in 1974.
Time travel to the 1970s has some more entertaining possibilities than we see here but the scenes in that decade are a fun and affectionate take on a period swamped with change.
Margot (Tillier), whom Antoine happens to be infatuated with, plays the part of the young Marianne. Antoine plays out his own feelings and manipulates her on screen.
Then Victor himself begins to develop feelings for Margot and tracks her down to the home she shares with a husband and baby. Or does she?
Keeping this ambitious and clever story together, flipping back and forth between the reality and the artifice at Time Travelling Inc., is a directorial tour de force from Bedos. His next film will be eagerly anticipated.