Woody Allen likes telling stories. It’s what made his stand-up comedy sets so distinctive. He didn’t simply recite a string of jokes (although he is a masterful joke writer); he told a story and punctuated it with hilarious one-liners. He clearly still enjoys the process of inventing characters and putting them through their paces. It happens that his latest effort was made in Paris and features French actors speaking in their native tongue…but it’s not surprising that the narrative, which deals with a fraught marital relationship, was concocted by the same man who made Crimes and Misdemeanors, Match Point, and Blue Jasmine.

His heroine, a young and beautiful woman (Lou de Laâge), bumps into an old friend (Niels Schneider) she hasn’t seen since high school. He confesses that he always had a crush on her and persuades her to join him for a drink… then a lunch…and then another lunch. She hides these trysts from her husband (Melvil Poupaud), a prosperous businessman with a possessive streak. Allen embroiders this seemingly simple premise with a series of expansive details that dare us to question each character’s values and decisions as they navigate the winding road that lays ahead of them.

Chance and circumstance are the key components of Coup de Chance, which translates as “stroke of luck.” If his protagonist was happily married she might not agree to meet up with her onetime schoolmate. If her spouse was not so controlling her increasingly suspicious behavior might not pique his curiosity. If her mother (Valérie Lemercier) wasn’t a welcome presence in her son-in-law’s swell apartment the whole matter might resolve itself. That’s what makes Allen such a good tale-spinner: he sets up situations that draw us in and casts the right actors to bring these characters to life.

The celebrated cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, who has collaborated with Allen on five previous features, guarantees that those actors and their settings are handsomely shot. But I miss the days when Dick Hyman provided Woody Allen films with wonderfully compatible scores. I don’t mind “needle drops” but the director uses Herbie Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island” and the Modern Jazz Quartet’s “Bags’ Groove” a few times too many.

Would anyone pay particular attention to a French import about love and deception without well-known stars if Woody Allen’s name weren’t attached to it? Perhaps not, but since this is his work—recognizably so—and it shows a sure hand guiding the proceedings, it is worth seeing, and marking as his fiftieth film. I, for one, am looking forward to his next.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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May 2024