Coup de Chance and the Slow End of Woody Allen

Movies Features Woody Allen
Coup de Chance and the Slow End of Woody Allen

I admit, I may have written something like this essay more than once. When I wrote about A Rainy Day in New York back in 2020, as the first Woody Allen movie I’d missed theatrically in two decades, it was something of a surrender, framed by how, even apart from the resurfaced sexual abuse allegation against the director, it felt as if other filmmakers had more ably taken over the territory long associated with him. I noted at the time that while Rainy Day felt like “the end of something,” Allen had in fact already completed his next film, and when Rifkin’s Festival arrived on U.S. shores a belated two years later (already a disorienting pattern for a director whose movies used to appear like seemingly contractually-obligated clockwork), I wrote about that, too – a significantly worse movie that made watching Woody Allen pictures feel even more like a habit I lacked the fortitude (or the movie-star, career-focused clarity) to simply drop. And here, now, two years after that, is Coup de Chance, still feeling like the end of the line for Woody Allen.

Coup de Chance is Allen’s 50th film as a director. It is also his first in French. It is also maybe his last? Who’s to say? Normally, an 88-year-old who’s been the subject of such repeatedly discoursed controversy and who’s already made 50 movies might reasonably be expected to find himself at the end of his directing career. Then again, his mother lived to be 96. His father died at an even 100. And there’s always France, apparently.

Or the Quad Cinema in Manhattan, where I went out to see Coup de Chance, after not particularly planning to – go out, I mean. I had a screening link, I didn’t get to it fast enough, and it expired.

Watching the last few Allen movies online, for free, felt like an easy pass on the matter of whether watching them constituted “supporting” him. Faced with the decision to ask for a new link or just head to the only theater in Manhattan playing his new movie all day, I felt an Allen-ish impulse, particularly visible in his last couple decades of work, both thematically and, at many points, technically: What difference does it make, really?

Curious about the literal answer to this question, I tried to look up U.S. box office numbers for Coup de Chance. I found none. I wondered if the Quad was four-walling it to avoid the shame of an Allen movie bypassing Manhattan entirely, or if they just felt the need to book it as a gesture. Their pre-reel boasting of the theater’s storied history includes stills from both Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters and Roman Polanski’s Bitter Moon, for what it’s worth. (Last weekend, Coup de Chance seemed to have many more engagements out on Long Island, a punishment that may not fit the alleged crime, but one that has a certain low-key cosmic cruelty.)

So I paid for a ticket and sat down to watch Coup de Chance with a bunch of folks even older than I, inspiring a fond reminiscence about the time I saw You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger on a weekday, early evening, and bought a senior-priced ticket from the kiosk despite being only 30, because I’d be damned if I’d be the only person in the surprisingly full auditorium paying full price. Like that movie, and so many other later-period Allen offerings, Coup de Chance (“Stroke of Luck”) is about luck and fate. It’s also one of the murder ones, like Match Point and Irrational Man, suggesting that Allen’s brain has been operating in a loop for a while now: You get a farcical one, a younger-people one, a murder one, occasionally a tragic one. Here, you specifically get Fanny (Lou de Laâge), married to finance guy Jean (Melvil Poupaud), self-conscious about her status as a trophy wife, and intrigued, in that go-along way that characterizes Allen’s young women, when she has a chance meeting with Alain (Niels Schneider), an old classmate who makes no secret of his once-and-presumably-future infatuation with her.

Speaking in the kind of pushy red flags that have become Allen’s love language, Alain pursues Fanny, and eventually they fall into an affair. The suspense of Coup de Chance, barely a thriller but not funny or dramatic enough to qualify as much else, depends mainly on our uncertainty about which corner of this love triangle will have another corner bumped off, and whether that character will be someone we’re invited to identify with or not. Because Allen has little faith in his younger female characters to do anything but become unglued, he eventually brings forward Fanny’s mother Camille (Valérie Lemercier) to gaze upon other characters with increasing suspicion.

It seemed possible that translating Allen’s dialogue into French might excuse the clunkiness that he used to deflect with genuine witticisms. (A Rainy Day in New York is the “best” of his post-exile movies because at least it has some funny lines. I think I might have mentioned this before.) For an American viewer, it only further deflects any blame from the actors, laying out Allen’s awkwardly declamatory dialogue in subtitles. There’s no couples’ shorthand in Allen movies, especially these days; everyone states and restates their feelings (“I’m flattered and embarrassed”) – as if wary of translation errors, come to think of it, but no, he’s been doing this for ages at this point. “He’s a Gatsby-like figure,” one character says about another early on, and they mean that people are unsure of the exact source of his wealth. But Allen (who named another character after Gatsby in Rainy Day) has become one, too, albeit not so lavishly appointed or charismatic. He is, however, borne back ceaselessly into the past, by a self-generated current.

That’s the most interesting note struck in Coup de Chance: The way that Alain and Fanny fall into each other’s arms out of mutual nostalgia, a longing for a time when they were all potential, with no messy failures to their name. The cinematography by Vittorio Storaro, who also shot Allen’s previous four films, reflects these warmly yearning feelings with its autumnal glow when they’re together, the camera feeling a bit more liberated in its long takes than usual – particularly around the furtive couple, it has the sensation of floating slightly above the ground. Their talky, over-explanatory affair nonetheless has the bittersweet buzz of two people attempting to locate their youthful promise. It’s not actorly chemistry, nor especially good writing. It’s just a feeling, easy enough to project onto the imaginary, non-exiled, English-language version of this movie that would star Daisy Edgar-Jones, Tom Holland and James McAvoy. The old might-have-been.

Though it’s possible to be chilled by the thought of Allen himself thinking this way – a passive solipsism from a man who is by most standards extremely rich and successful – it will, intentionally or not, resonate with plenty of Allen fans, even or especially of the “ex” variety. Most of the bluehairs at my screening of Coup de Chance likely saw an Allen movie in their relative youth, whether that was 20, 30 or 50 years ago. Maybe there’s time to fit in one more, and maybe it’ll be absorbing enough to reduce Allen’s reputations, both creative and personal, to a background hum, or less. (Or maybe they don’t think about it at all. I certainly can’t tell anyone how much to ruminate over art-versus-artist stuff; I barely know how myself.) It’s almost easier that he’s no longer making anything even as good as Café Society, let alone Match Point, let alone Hannah and Her Sisters; better – “better” – perhaps to have the frequent suggestion of past, better movies. If Annie Hall or Everyone Says I Love You can’t be swept under the rug, neither can their complicated feelings.

In the end, there isn’t much particular about Coup de Chance that renders it a particularly fitting (or even particularly ignominious) farewell, save the literal end, with a closing line – what the hell, I’ll spoil: “Best not to dwell on it.” – that lingers, in the head and on the actual screen, like either a cosmic punchline or a brusque dismissal of everything that keeps us up at night. It seems likelier that a 51st Allen movie will come together or not through fate, rather than the “showing up” to which he once attributed the majority of success. His last three movies have all felt like stopping places, for overlapping but different reasons, none of them especially flattering – and the possibility that each one may be his last has been instrumental in drawing me to watch them and write about them. I may have written something like this before.

But then, maybe that’s appropriate for an artist who knows a thing or two about repeating himself, nonetheless aware that the result isn’t always the same. It may be difficult to take Allen at his word about any number of things for any number of reasons, but I do believe him when he’s claimed, during these later periods, to still feel engaged with his ideas, regardless of how rough-drafty they feel to those of us who have seen 20 or 30 or 40-plus of his movies. At the same time, I wonder if a part of him, characteristically fearful of the ultimate end, shares with some of his audience a mix of compulsion and dread. Or if, in spite of that fearfulness of death I’ve so identified with over the years, we – filmmaker and audience – harbor another suspicion: That all of this, his half-masterful, half-ignoble, heavily asterisked body of work, will be easier to take when it’s actually over.

Jesse Hassenger is associate movies editor at Paste. He also writes about movies and other pop-culture stuff for a bunch of outlets including GQ, Decider, Polygon, Vulture, and, where he also has a podcast. Following @rockmarooned on Twitter is a great way to find out about what he’s watching or listening to, and which terrifying flavor of Mountain Dew he has most recently consumed.

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