Coup de Chance has Woody Allen working in familiar territory with renewed energy

Coup de Chance has Woody Allen working in familiar territory with renewed energy

Coup de Chance is the title of the latest from octogenarian filmmaker Woody Allen. Translated from French, the language spoken across the entirety of the film, it means “stroke of luck.” This, of course, represents the general thematic ideas being explored, as well as the incident that kicks off the film. Your mileage may vary in how well this theme is ultimately integrated into the story, but there’s no denying that Allen’s ability to ruminate at feature length on a simple notion has remained sharp, even with a filmography that tends to crest and valley with every other entry. His most recent film, Rifkin’s Festival, exhibited a slower pace for the filmmaker who never seems to stop working, providing a wealth of charm but little to hang on to. Through such a lens, Coup de Chance is a marked uptick in quality and energy. For fans of Allen, it’s rather exciting — it seems the old dog still has some juice left in him. 

Despite his distinct voice, Allen’s films span many subgenres, and Coup de Chance blends two of them: the delightful, if sordid romance of something like September mixed with the shocking, violent edge of March Point. The two modes aren’t specifically bifurcated as they are in Crimes and Misdemeanors, or used as a framing device as in Melinda and Melinda, but are instead successfully meshed into one flowing narrative. 

In fact it’s this tonal liquidity that impresses most with Coup de Chance. Despite the sharp, autumnal cinematography by Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now), the direction is rather low key. No longer is Allen calling attention to his influences through camerawork. This isn’t to say he’s relying on the point-and-shoot methods of fellow extremely old man Clint Eastwood, but rather that the camera rarely calls attention to itself. Sometimes it’s a static shot meant to capture the beauty of non-tourist areas of Paris or the interiors (ha!) of a bougie (or decidedly non-bougie) apartment, but mostly the viewer is made to walk alongside the action — the action consisting largely of people walking and talking (surprise surprise). 

Lou de Laâge plays Fanny, a young woman in a functional, loving marriage, albeit one without much passion. Her husband Jean (Melvil Poupaud) is extremely wealthy, but the details of his employment are purposefully obscure. “I make wealthy people wealthier,” is his claim, and the fact that his previous business partner turned up dead is just one of those funny coincidences that, as far as he and his friends are concerned, only looks bad on paper. One day while returning to her office after lunch, Fanny runs into Alain (Niels Schneider) a former classmate who, after remarking on the good fortune of crossing paths, confesses that he had a massive crush on Fanny back in the day. The two agree to meet again, and an affair follows shortly thereafter. Fanny is conflicted about the sudden whirlwind romance, but when luck provides such an opportunity, how could she resist?

It’s difficult material at points, but it’s handled quite well by the performers. Both de Laâge and Schneider succeed at divorcing the dialogue from the self-aware quality often apparent in Allen’s writing, while Poupaud makes a surprisingly dense character out of what could’ve been a cookie-cutter “jealous guy.” While it’s a bit of a copout to applaud well-motivated characters when they tend to exposit their motivations explicitly, it’s also par for the course. And really, the lines have long been drawn in the sand regarding Woody Allen fandom. You’re either into what he’s dishing out or youre not trying to engage with it at all. 

And to that end, it’s fair to say that there’s little new ground being explored here relative to the rest of Allen’s work. Adult relationships traversed by messy humans, references to classic works of art (in this case, poetry), and the suggestion that the setting itself is a main character — all of the hallmarks are here. That said, there’s a dearth of highbrow, adult drama out there these days, so for one of the more prolific auteurs of the form to deliver a new permutation of his favorite ingredients is refreshing to the point of feeling novel. 

For reasons I no longer care to relitigate, it’s likely that any future films from Allen will be set outside of America, and it’s interesting to see how he utilizes Paris in ways he previously did with Manhattan. Having never been there, I cannot comment with confidence as to how accurate it is, but his admiration for The City of Light is very much on display, even if it’s mostly just a backdrop for more of the same. 

In the recent past Allen has stated that he plans to soon retire from making movies, choosing instead to focus on writing. He recently published both a memoir and a short story collection, and hopes to write a full-length novel. As such, there’s potential that Coup de Chance, his 50th film, could also be his last. If this is indeed the case, then it’s safe to say that his filmmaking career has ended on a creative high note.

Directed by Woody Allen

Written by Woody Allen

Starring Lou de Laâge, Niels Schneider, Melvil Poupaud, Elsa Zylberstein

Rated PG-13, 93 minutes