Best known for prestige items like his dutiful CYRANO DE BERGERAC/’90, Jean-Paul Rappeneau was a throwback to the old school Cinema-of-Quality directors so loathed by the coming Nouvelle Vague generation @ Cahiers du Cinéma. This film, apparently his last, is a big WWII adventure (with comic trimmings) that follows its loosely connected cast (a spy, an actress, her lover(s), a scientist (w/ a stash of heavy water), politicos & a prison escapee) as they flee to the south when Paris falls. Handsome to look at, with a ricocheting plot that’s all cross & double-cross chases, it’s fun in an impersonal corporate manner, but Rappeneau doesn’t know when to let a scene bloom or when to press, and his action staging might have come out of an instruction manual with a couple of missing pages. It’s like one of those plush late ‘50s or ‘60s Blake Edwards’ war comedies . . . but helmed by John Sturges. The film crashes whenever leading lady Isabelle Adjani shows up as a vain movie star whose complete self-involvement gets everyone in trouble. She keeps an ironic distance, hiding behind the joke instead of embracing it. She might have done better to follow the lead of co-star Gérard Depardieu who plays it straight, locating his laughs behind a real threat. (He also temporarily dropped 50 lbs. which helps.) Yvan Attal, as the escaped felon, and Peter Coyote’s multilingual mystery man do equally well, but the rest of the cast is as blandly efficient as the film itself. Actually, the film is worse than efficient . . . it's tasteful.
DOUBLE-BILL: Bertrand Tavernier’s SAFE CONDUCT/’02 takes its suspenseful WWII comic adventures seriously. A true behind-the-scenes tale set in the film industry of Occupied France, its first half suffers from a bad case of roving camera syndrome, but pulls itself together thrillingly in part two.