Coup de Chance

Fanny and Jean are an attractive French couple who seem to have it all:  wealth, a splendid apartment in Paris, a circle of smart successful friends, a beautiful house in the country.  He’s some kind of financial consultant – ‘I make rich people richer’, he says – and she works in an upmarket auction house. 

Jean is Fanny’s second husband.  Her first was, by Jean’s standards at least, a bit of a loser.   She’s the one who’s married up and into money.  Jean is besotted with his beautiful young wife and showers her with gifts.  He takes pride in showing her off in expensive clothes and jewellery, and is not embarrassed by the fact that everybody regards her as his trophy wife.  Indeed, he often recounts publicly how, when he first clapped eyes on her at a social event, he set out to win her and succeeded. 

Fanny enjoys her life of luxury and her husband’s devotion, although she’s occasionally self-conscious about being his trophy and would prefer to play it a bit cooler.   She is mildly irritated when he gives her a flash new ring and urges her to wear it immediately in order as he puts it, ‘to show up all the other wives and make their husbands jealous’. 

Jean is a self-made man, or so he emphatically claims to anyone who’ll listen.  He doesn’t believe in luck.  ‘I make my own luck’, he says, more than once.  He has a reputation as a shady operator, and dark rumours swirl about the mysterious disappearance of his previous business partner. 

Then one day as Fanny is walking to work, she encounters an old friend from her bohemian student days.  This is Alain, a struggling writer who confesses to a having had a serious crush on her, a candle that still burns.  They take to meeting in nearby parks for simple baguette lunches and to reminisce about their carefree, dream-filled youth full of books and poetry.  It takes a while – she’s not unhappy with Jean – but eventually they embark on an affair, with all the inevitable deceptions and scheming that follow.

Coup de Chance – ‘stroke of luck’ in French – is written and directed by Woody Allen.  Critics, including our own venerable veteran David Stratton, have said it is could well be his last and best movie.  Its themes – love, marriage, infidelity, the lives of wealthy sophisticates and above all the role played by luck in human affairs – are highly reminiscent of Match Point, a similar domestic crime thriller which has hitherto been my favourite.  My jury is still out as to whether Coup de Chance is better. 

There are many things I like about Woody Allen’s movies.   I like the realism and naturalism he brings to the portrayal of human relations.  He’s always mindful of the complexities of human motivations, and of the baser instincts that can take over when Love comes up against and is sometimes trumped by greed, jealousy and the need for self-preservation. 

I also like that he doesn’t resort to melodrama to convey emotional intensity or moral gravity.  Characters don’t scream and shout at each other, no one does that cliched thing of angrily sweeping stuff off the table to crash and shatter on the floor. 

The plot moves forward with simple visuals in chronological order.  There’s no portentous music to announce that a nasty crime is about to be committed.   Two heavies knock at a door.  A few scenes later we see them carrying out a weighty bag.  We know there’s a body in it and we know who it is.

Context and backstory are provided by dialogue where necessary, as with the gossip Jean’s and Fanny’s friends trade in behind their backs.   

There is music, not that corny here-we-are-in-Paris accordion stuff but the jaunty jazz that Allen has always loved.  The French love jazz too, so it chimes well with the frequent transatlantic travel his characters often mention.  Mind you, when they do, they’re not talking Kansas or California.  (You can take the man out of New York….)  

Despite its authorship by Woody Allen, Coup de Chance is a very French movie.  The dialogue is exclusively in rapid-fire Parisian French, in which we presume Woody Allen is now fluent.  Be warned if you don’t like subtitles. 

Final verdict:  Both movies end with a stroke-of-luck twist.  But because the one at the end of Match Point is so perfect, such a killer, I rate it a smidgin higher than Coup de Chance.  But that’s just me.  You might be swayed instead by the sheer gorgeousness of Paris and la campagne, and I couldn’t argue with that.