A lavish period piece set in France at the beginning of World War II, Bon Voyage concocts an unlikely chamber comedy in the midst of its wartime backdrop. The movie works much better than this merger of tones would suggest. Director Jean-Paul Rappeneau (Cyrano de Bergerac, The Horseman on the Roof) keeps the story moving at a quick comic clip while also dangling just enough mystery and intrigue to keep us interested in the plot and mindful that the Nazis are knocking at the front door.
The story begins as the French cabinet and much of the country's well-to-do population are moving from Paris to Bordeaux in order to put greater distance between themselves and the Nazi Party. The beautiful and opportunistic movie diva Viviane Denvers (Isabelle Adjani) lives with a vacillating cabinet minister (a slimmed-down Gérard Depardieu), whose protection she desires. However, in one of the movie's opening scenes, a dead man is dragged from her apartment by her young admirer Frédéric (Grégori Derangère), who winds up going to jail when the dead man is discovered in the trunk of the car he is driving.
There's also a seemingly tangential storyline about a Jewish professor (Jean-Marc Stehle), and his samples of heavy water used in nuclear fusion studies, who must escape to England. The professor and his lovely young assistant Camille (Virginie Ledoyen) keep crossing paths with Viviane and Frédéric, although it's a while before we understand how these meandering storylines intersect.
This portrait of 1940 France on the verge of capitulating to the Vichy regime is intriguing. But what keeps the movie engaging is its nutty tone. Characters run everywhere in Bon Voyage: in and out of rooms, to and fro, chasing, escaping and out-distancing one another. Adjani (The Story of Adèle H, Camille Claudel) has one of the most delightful roles of her career as the self-absorbed actress who lives her life as though it were a perpetual stage. Bon Voyage charms with its insouciant attitude toward the impending calamity surrounding the characters, though its froth may wear thin for some viewers.