A jewel thief, released from prison, reunites with his mistress and his former accomplice.
Lino Ventura … Simon
Françoise Fabian … Françoise
Charles Gérard … Charlot
André Falcon … Le bijoutier
Mireille Mathieu … Herself / Elle-même
Lilo … Madame Félix
Claude Mann … L’intellectuel
In typical Lelouch fashion, La Bonne année takes in a wide spectrum of genres but ultimately resolves itself as a humane love story which touchingly brings together a man and a woman from wildly different milieus. The crime thriller element of the film is meticulously crafted, in a precise, detached style which is reminiscent of the works of Jean-Pierre Melville. There are some nice satirical touches and indeed a great deal of reflection on changing attitudes over the seven year span covered by the film. Although it is a curious mixed bag of a film, making heavy use of flashbacks, it is – paradoxically – one of Lelouch’s most focused and coherent films. Less deliberately artistic than some of his other works (which rely far more on cinematographic gimmickry than content), La Bonne année reveals in its director a discipline and humanity which few give him credit for.
In common with his New Wave contemporaries, Lelouch was a great experimenter of the cinematic form, and his experience as a cinematographer gave him more freedom than most to try out novel ways of making a film. The film starts and ends with present-day scenes filmed in black-and-white, which could just be mistaken for a late 1950s policier if it were not for the constantly roving camera. The camera movement becomes more erratic as the subject being film becomes more agitated, a devise which Lelouch uses frequently in his films and which generally works well to create a sense of panic or excitement.
The film’s longest segment is the lengthy flashback to 1966, which is filmed (gorgeously) in colour, very much in the style of a contemporary policier. To complicate matters further, there are additional flashbacks (including flashbacks within flashbacks), which are intended to follow the train of mind of the central character Simon, often reinforcing his sense of self-doubt. However, for most spectators, the biggest surprise comes at the start of the film, in which the opening credits are played over a sequence from Lelouch’s 1966 film Un homme et une femme. You can imagine the director justifying that decision (and a subsequent critique of that film which later crops up in the film) with the words “Cannes” and “1966”, but it still feels a tad self-indulgent, even for Lelouch.
The star of La Bonne année is Lino Ventura, an Italian-born actor who made it big in French cinema in the 1950s, playing pretty much the kind of role he plays in this film – a rather tough but sympathetic gangster-type with a wry sense of humour. Ventura manages to buck his own stereotypical image by playing a romantic leader with conviction and charm, working well with his delightful co-star, Françoise Fabian. The repartee between Ventura and Charles Gérard is also amusing, and Ventura’s impersonation of an elderly man has to be seen to be believed.
All in all, La Bonne année has to be one of Claude Lelouch’s best films, in which the director’s legendary artistic flair works well in complementing a well-written script. Beautifully photographed and well-acted, it tells an engaging story which will appeal as much to fans of the classic French crime-thriller as to devotees of the Nouvelle Vague romantic drama.