Veteran director Claude Lelouche turns 80 in October and has struggled in recent years to find the form which earned him an Oscar for A Man and a Woman in 1967. His last film, Un + Une, a quirky romantic comedy set in India with Jean Dujardin and Elza Zylberstein in the lead roles, saw a partial return to form which he has failed to follow up on in Chacun Sa Vie. Both Dujardin and Zylberstein are recast in this ensemble film which reads like a roll call of stars from the French movie world – Christopher Lambert, Gérard Darmon, Francis Huster, Mathilde Seigner, Béatrice Dalle, Ramzy Bedia – as well as some offbeat casting in the form of renowned French lawyer Eric Dupond-Moretti, French legendary rock star Johnny Hallyday and popular French singer Liane Foly. But this is Lelouche ‘Lite’ a frothy mix of ideas about love, relationships etc that works in some scenes falling disappointingly flat in others.
Set against the backdrop of the Beaune jazz festival deep in the wine region of eastern France, a group of characters come together to take part in a legal trial presided over by Dupond-Moretti. Some are spectators in the courtroom, some are jurors and several take the place of the accused. Among others there is an alcoholic lawyer (Lambert), a man who cheats on his wife with a young man (Darmon), a prostitute who decides to go into retirement (Dalle) and a police officer (Dujardin) who is fooled by a Johnny Hallyday impersonator.
Chacun Sa Vie diligently covers a range of topics dear to the director’s heart – fate and destiny, musings on marriage, seduction and sexual attraction, break-ups and make-ups and signs of the zodiac. As with most ensemble films, there is a tendancy to concentrate on the storyline at the expense of greater character development. Less characters with more to say might have made a more satisfying film. And some of the characters, such as a doctor (Jean-Claude Bigard) who scoots around the hospital on a hoverboard telling off-colour jokes to his patients to make them laugh, are definitley surplus to requirements. Dujardin never disappoints and he steals the film in a short segment with a Johnny Hallyday impersonator played by the rock star himself. But even he can’t rescue this patchy, uneven, lacklustre film.