‘Coup de Chance’ Review: Woody Allen Returns to Form With French-Set Drama

Venice 2023: The filmmaker’s 50th – and potentially last – film hits all the requisite beats of his oeuvre

"Coup de Chance"
"Coup de Chance" (CREDIT: Venice Film Festival)

An affluent partner to a much younger spouse finds himself in a sentimental bind. So tight is this knot that he must resort to extra-legal solutions in order to extricate himself so he calls up a hoodlum acquaintance and nervously requests a meeting “in the usual spot.” Were this the 1980s, the rich man might have been played by Martin Landau; a decade later, the thug on the other end of the line could have resembled Tony Sirico. In 2023’s “Coup de Chance,” that usual spot happens to be on the banks of the Seine, just below Pont-Neuf.

Marking the director’s French-language debut (if hardly his first trip to Paris), Woody Allen’s 50th feature, “Coup de Chance,” proves that every now and then, much can be gained in translation. And though the film hardly treads new ground, it nevertheless gamely reshuffles many of Allen’s pet-obsessions and stock characters with a new accent and slightly different seasoning, making for a dish, thrown together of old ingredients, that every so often comes out tasting fresh.

This slight-but-winning confection will have little effect on the controversial director’s galvanizing public image but, after a string of stuffy disappointments, “Coup de Chance” will offer comfort to the filmmaker’s many completists – especially given Allen’s intimation that this 50th film might well be his last.

Allen’s embrace of a new language – and of actors proficient in it – has clearly lent new breath to a world that has grown ever more airless over his past few outings, while the film’s mischievous construction lends a welcome sense of play. Pulling up cheating spouses, snooping spouses, and spouses wistful for the path not taken, the film juggles many elements common to Allen’s work, feeding them into a twisty drama that’s nearly all set-up for one of his career’s funniest punchlines.

The Allen analogue in this case is a tweed wearing, New York-raised writer conveniently named… Alain (Niels Schneider). Strolling his Paris neighborhood one happy morning, Alain stumbles upon his high school crush Fanny (Lou de Laâge), who, as luck would have it, happens to live and work nearby. The fact that a struggling writer would live in one of Paris’ most opulent and cost-prohibitive areas, and that the aforementioned usual spot for quiet scheming happens to be the very center of one of the world’s most-visited cities, proves that at least some of Allen’s more romantic tendencies survived the transatlantic flight intact.

“Coup de Chance” translates to “Stroke of Luck,” with luck being the film’s operative theme (as is also the case in about 38 of Allen’s other films). The young pair soon make good on dashed high school dreams, falling into an affair after a chance meeting on the street. Meanwhile, Fanny’s older husband, Jean (Melvil Poupaud), takes a more determinist view. A Gatsby-like figure with a rather shady source of revenue – he claims to help the rich get richer and leaves it at that – Jean believes that there’s no fate but what you make. And then there’s Lou’s New York based mother (Valerie Lemercier), who picks the exact wrong time to pop in for a visit.

Here are the key components for a breezy 90-minute drama that scrambles and reassembles the right place, wrong time set from each permutation. Allen’s trademark philosophical asides and well-tuned one-liners (“Too sexy doesn’t exist,” says Jean. “That’s like being too rich”) fit neatly into French, while cinematographer Vittorio Storaro’s amber lighting setups nicely burnish the film’s languid stretches of love in the afternoon.

Of the cast, comedienne Valerie Lemercier (who turned eyes with her gonzo Celine Dion biopic “Aline” at Cannes a few years) comes into the fore during the film’s back half, playing a role that no doubt would have gone to Dianne Wiest or Keaton back in the ’90s, and acquitting herself just as well.

Whether Allen ever does make another film is, as of now, still anyone’s guess. “Coup de Chance” is no late-career triumph, but it’s amiable enough, finely wrought and it builds to a delicious conclusion. Over the course of 50 films, Woody Allen may have long run out of anything new to say, only he’s managed, with this milestone feature, to find a new way to express himself.  

“Coup de Chance” will be released internationally September 27.