Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s Bon Voyage opens and ends inside of a movie theater, intimating the film’s playfulness and tribute to the art of cinema itself. The film teases genre types; working more as intrigue set to a comedy of manners, toss in Hitchcock’s innocent man motif as well for good measure. Rappeneau (Horseman on the Roof, Cyrano de Bergerac) miraculously maintains focus despite this kitchen sink approach and delivers a funny, exciting and even romantic motion picture.
The film is set against the Nazi occupation of France during World War II. In order to escape the advancing enemy forces, the central characters flee Paris for Bordeaux. Those taking flight include Frederic (Gràgori Derangère—resembling a French Jimmy Stewart), an aspiring novelist, having recently escaped prison after taking the fall for a murder actually committed by the self-absorbed French actress Viviane Denvers (a brilliant, wide-eyed Isabelle Adjani) whose dramatic excesses are taken from the screen to real life in order to manipulate the men around her. Her romantic targets include French political figure Jean-Etienne Beaufort (Gàrard Depardieu), and the French Journalist Alex Winckler (Peter Coyote) whose presence is suspect, and may or may not affect a Jewish scientist and eager collegiate assistant Camille (Virginie Ledoyen—8 Women, The Beach) seeking to transport suspected atomic ingredients to England and away from the grasp of the Nazi Regime.
Bon Voyage's plot is old-fashioned. Its actors and actresses’ faces, like those of the ‘40s and ‘50s, are so luminous, and expressive, it’s a wonder the film was not conceived in black and white. Perhaps that might have been too obvious, dumbing down Rappeneau’s complex, ambiguous design.