Tempting though it is to pen this review in the voice and style of Mort Rifkin, the most indelible Woody Allen character in years, the embattled New York-born director deserves a fairer shake––maybe a fair trial, if we could say. In this early-2020s era of a gradual pushback against MeToo morality, Allen actually found himself, with Coup de Chance, enjoying a high-ish-profile Venice premiere earlier this week on the verge of a legitimate comeback. A new Variety interview hinted at a path for resuming work in his former production model, an absolute pick of American A-listers again if (perhaps) just one of them scabs. But do we want this? Isn’t it all still enveloped in a kind of discomfort?
Making a very natural transition into classy Francophone cinema, here he has the choice of a potential royal flush of French stars. (Though Isabelle Huppert and Catherine Deneuve, who have sounded-out collaborating with him in interviews, are absent amidst many more.) Coup de Chance is rather pleasurable in and of itself: a parlor game for long-suffering Woodyheads to tick off the typical tics and reflexes while marveling at how consistent and industrious his story-construction skills (if not other literary faculties) remain.
As you might’ve heard, we’re in Crimes and Misdemeanors vein here; we’re in Match Point vein; we’re in Manhattan Murder Mystery vein. The latter, made around the time of his notorious investigation, found Diane Keaton returning for a bit of solidarity (which would continue offscreen also), as well as Anjelica Huston and Alan Alda both in good form. It climaxes with a decent Lady from Shanghai-esque hall-of-mirrors shootout, giving Seventh Seal pastiches a rest for once. We fortunately have both Woody: Deeper Cinephile and Woody: Late-Era Auteurist on display in Coup de Chance––its opening shot doffs a beret to Marnie, with the striking pink handbag of Fanny (Lou de Laâge) dominating the frame in close-up as she strides down a boulevard.
It’s a doomed-love-triangle romance on top of a comedy-thriller, Fanny falling for her old schoolmate Alain (Niels Schneider), who so fulfills all the clichés of a would-be Parisian bohemian novelist type that Allen is clearly having a self-aware chuckle. But Fanny is married to the yucky financier Jean (Melvil Poupaud, superb) whose unctuous social circle love mirthfully recirculating rumors that he had his business partner whacked to clear the path to more loot. Fanny (and by jove, Alain too) needs to be careful. Thus it’s fortuitous that Allen again shows his absolute flair at writing parts for actresses, folding her mother Aline (Valérie Lemercier, excelling two decades after Claire Denis’ Friday Night) into the story––first as a bit of a neurotic nag, then as an amusingly tentative amateur sleuth.
Does the concept of chance––also adroitly explored in Match Point––have anything to do with Allen’s own existential tenets? “Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering, and it’s all over much too soon,” he once said, but perhaps the horizon for happiness is predicated on luck. And luck shines, just as it has on this always-entertaining and often-confessionally (if indirectly) personal writer-director, with dozens of still-good movies in his filmography and the court judge’s gavel yet to bang in any way (to say nothing of the court of public opinion). Coup de Chance is an amiable, sometimes-profound amuse-bouche. But a great filmmaking career is predicated on decisive calculations and conscious choices in both life and art, let alone the vagaries of chance, and his reputation has had to follow suit.
Coup de Chance premiered at the 2023 Venice Film Festival.