It took me a not unpleasant second viewing of the French movie La Belle Epoque (2019/2020) to find out why I liked the movie so much.
I usually remember some compelling dialogue, a sound byte, which offers both the essence of why it pleased me, as well as something catchy to open or close my blog post with.
But with the movie being French and the Dutch subtitles not giving me anything I remembered, although that doesn’t mean nothing memorable was said, it was not the dialogue which made me like it so much.
Before we get into the message of this lighthearted, beautifully shot French movie, about a disillusioned cartoonist who signs up for a theatrical production to take him back to the era or day of his choosing, and he chooses to meet his wife again from whom he is estranged,
i want to get one thing clear about myself.
Make that two, I need to say two things.
First of all, that I am an actor’s fan and a fan of male or female heroins.
I visit movies not because of a director nor because of a topic. I don’t visit them because they offer a profound, or subtle or new perspective to something important.
But if I like the actor? I am surprisingly flexible to what the movie is about.
There are movies with Brad Pitt I have not seen. There are plenty of movies with Angelina Jolie I have not seen. And there are very few with Charlize Theron movies that I have seen, although she seems to be making a comeback to mainstream these last couple of years.
But especially male actors stretch my taste, and I have ended up with some movies out of my comfort zone because of them.
The second thing I need to tell you is that my lover broke up with me in December, and I used to be a secret mistress for five years and now it is over.
After the initial boost in energy this gave me, to no longer be “the bad woman”, I m gradually coming back from that place where I really believed I too, was better off without our affair.
Don’t get me wrong, I m still not a wreck.
And I m definitely happy that I waited for the world to turn their eyes off of me, whether out of concern or hopes I would crash and be punished by God for my sins or become super relatable or approachable because of my pain, before I turned inside to discover how I really feel.
Getting over a breakup like this is a far more delicate matter than just deciding you re never going to be a secret mistress again.
Even though I did say that in those first weeks, something I seriously regret now.
But maybe because I refused to bend, break or even to give in an millimeter to grief, everything is still very raw.
I did nothing in terms of getting over this, which may explain that all I see in movies is him, me, or us. Exactly the way I have done for five years, except it is all past tense now.
This movie is no exception.
All I see is us.
And these two main motivators for me to see and like movies were both present in La Belle Epoque.
The male actor Daniel Auteuil and the character he plays, Victor, possesses a warmth, wit and charm that could make any woman drop her panties without much further ado.
And the female characters are strong and unreasonable, in a way that made me realize we would never see such girlpower in an American drama.
But honestly, I was so taken by Victor, that even if the female leads had been totally boring, I would still have had a great time.
Like I said, I am an actor’s girl.
I think it was the second part of my preference – where do I fit in? Where do we fit in? – that I only understood the second time I saw it.
This was more complex than falling for Victor’s cheeky smile and his creative talents.
First I thought it was a matter of finding out which role my lover had, and which role I had.
The most logical one, my lover in the male protagonist role of betrayed underdog and me in the role of his vengeful wife, did not make sense at all.
From the two of us, he was definitely the dominant, partly because I would never make the mistake of taking the lead with a man I like.
It’s one of the things I consider a mistress quality, and one “real” relationships can learn from.
Number one, always support each other.
But, number two, make it clear who is dominant and who is submissive, and stay in character.
Victor and his wife Marianne did not support each other, nor did they have a clear agreement on who was in charge. And their behavior pointed towards the roles being reversed. Marianne was and always had been dominant, and Victor aimed to please her.
I tried out different ways of looking at it, including putting myself in Victor’s shoes, but the breakthrough came from exploring the concept of what is real, and what is fake.
Which relationships are true, and which are fake because one of you is playing a role?
Victor goes back in time and meets an actress who plays his young wife, as they reenact how they met.
But over the course of the film, their play blends over to reality multiple times. And when the production company tries to end it, with a final scene, it is clear that even though the actress stays true to her scripted lines, and Victor is unaware that she is still in (or back in) character;
Her tears are real.
The lines she delivers to make Victor leave their play, are so intense that you can just see that she has feelings for him too.
It is no longer possible to separate reality from play, not even for the actress herself.
A mirror image of that comes at the end of the movie when his wife takes over the role of her younger self, and appears in the 70s bar where they once met.
She plays she’s the 1974 version of herself, and Victor reenacts his part.
This is the most intimate moment between this estranged couple of Victor and Marianne, as they connect emotionally, through lines which barely touch on their current day reality.
They are in a play.
And it was this moment, the second time I watched the movie, when I understood why I liked the movie. Because it illustrates that when we play a role, we are actually more real, than when we are real.
And that we regard it as normal that at the beginning of a relationship, we play a role, and engage in fun and surprising conversation;
Yet when we are in a relationship, we find it acceptable that this fades to the back ground. That we have a “real” relationship.
What the closing scene between Marianne and Victor illustrates, is that when we play, we are most connected.
I know why this is.
Because when we play we have our consciousness in it. That is what makes it so attractive. We are fully present in the moment, and with the other person.
It is absolutely magnetic.
It is what I did when I saw my lover, it is what he did when he was with me, it is what every newborn couple has done that was head over heels in love.
Nothing escapes you when you are in love, you are completely absorbed by the other person, by the connection. You re under the spell of it.
I think what I still have to get my head around, is what this means for my approach.
Or for what we could have had, if things had not ended.
Would we have done a better job?
La Belle Epoque shows us, that if you let it slip, you will need to move heaven and earth and book an expensive time travel gig to get your relationship back and to find each other again.
But have my lover and me not proven that if you do stay true to your role and put the care into meeting each other, it still might not be enough?
We never had a “normal” relationship, so it is hard to compare.
But something inside of me, tells me that maybe in order for it to work, I would have needed to accept things to become real. And for us to drop the roles of lovers.
That a real relationship may not go with playing the best version of a fantasy self.
Maybe for me this movie highlighted that a real relationship can only be formed, at the expense of what the lovers once had.
I know what I would pick.
An Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living