Seeking out the

5000 greatest films

in a century of cinema

Coup de chance
Stroke of Luck

Directed by Woody Allen
Produced by Letty Aronson and Erika Aronson
Written by Woody Allen
With: Lou de Laâge, Valérie Lemercier, Melvil Poupaud, Niels Schneider, Guillaume de Tonquédec, Elsa Zylberstein, Grégory Gadebois, Sara Martins, Anna Laik, Yannick Choirat, William Nadylam, Arnaud Viard, Jeanne Bournaud, Anne Loiret, Constance Dollé, Isabelle de Hertogh, and Bruno Gouery
Cinematography: Vittorio Storaro
Editing: Alisa Lepselter
Runtime: 93 min
Release Date: 27 September 2023
Aspect Ratio: 2.00 : 1
Color: Color

The 50th, and probably final, film from Woody Allen finds the 87-year-old writer/director working for the first time unsatirically in another language. With no American studio willing to back the scandal-tainted filmmaker, his loyal French financier fans have provided him with a last hurrah. Coup de chance, or Stroke of Luck, is yet another of Allen's stories about a seemingly ideal couple with wealth, beauty, and social standing getting involved in adultery, deception, and murder, only to discover that, in a Godless world, all that really counts for anything is luck. There are a couple of fresh spins on this formula. For one thing, it's not the adulterer who bumps off their lover this time out. And this murderer is not pursued by the authorities or his own conscience but by his mother-in-law. That sounds like a potentially funny premise, but aside from a few organic chuckles, Coup de chance is not a comedy. Nor is it an especially dark, deep, or heavy parable. Set largely to Herbie Hancock's laid-back jazz standard "Cantaloupe Island," the picture unfolds with such relaxed energy it borders on inert but still engages enough to make for a not-unpleasant way to kill 93 minutes.

Allen's last six films, especially the prior three, have been almost unwatchably shallow and sloppy. The reclusive octagenarian Luddite hasn't lived in the real world for many decades, so when he's tried to create bubbly comedies about young people living in the 21st Century, like the abysmal A Rainy Day in New York (2019), they feel a bit like if someone asked ChatGPT to make a Woody Allen film set in the present; the algorithm can copy things that felt relevant and hilarious in the 1970s and '80s but it lacks any modern-day reference points. So when Allen returns to the well of his few successful serious dramas, which have all been murder stories about high society that explore the timeless theme of how random chance matters more than hard work or a moral compass, it plays much better.

Allen has struck gold and silver several times with this story, first with his masterpiece Crimes and Misdemeanors in 1989. The following 15 years of his career, in which he maintained an unprecedented one-picture-a-year track record that lasted from 1977's Annie Hall to 2017's Wonder Wheel, were more hit-and-miss than his '70s and '80s output. But when he relocated his then-overly-familiar-to-downright-stale New York characters, narratives, and themes to London for Match Point (2005), the shift in setting breathed new life into old material. Even more refreshing, working with British actors with entirely different mannerisms, accents, and approaches to their craft made his dialogue feel new again. Never mind that Match Point was basically Crimes and Misdemeanors with all the comedy, complexity, religious subtext, and philosophical depth stripped out; it was a solid film with some wonderful performances, deeply memorable scenes, and a deliciously chilly vibe that made the picture special. Since that movie, Allen's best pictures have been ones where he left Manhatten and set the story in another of his favorite cities: the sparkling and sexy Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008), the inspired, if disappointing, Midnight in Paris (2011), and even his final appearance in one of his own films in a section of the goofy anthology To Rome with Love (2012).

Coup de chance takes Allen's material a step further into unfamiliar territory. The movie is not only set in Paris but also a French production, with French actors all speaking translated Woody Allen dialogue. Now, if you're a native French speaker, it all may sound just as forced and inauthentic as most of his recent English-language movies have, but since I don't speak the language, everything felt far less contrived and antiquated to me. I really enjoyed all the actors, especially the leads—none of whom acts as a surrogate for the Woody Allen screen persona. Lou de Laâge plays Fanny Fournier, an art dealer married to a shady money manager (Melvil Poupaud) whom everyone, even her mother (Valérie Lemercier), loves and administers. In the opening shot, Fanny bumps into an old high school chum named Alain (Niels Schneider), and they strike up an affair—more narratives turn on characters bumping into each other on the street in Allen's work than any other filmmaker in history, but then there are probably fewer filmmakers who spend as much time just walking down the street as Allen. I was unfamiliar with all these actors (other than Lemercier, who is also a filmmaker and directed herself in the 2021 bio-fiction about Céline Dion, Aline), but I enjoyed them all.

I also loved basking in the warm and sumptuous photography of Vittorio Storaro (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Apocalypse Now, The Last Emperor), who is one of the only old-school cinematographers whose work in the digital format has equaled his celluloid glory. Storaro convinced Allen to switch to digital in 2016 when they made the equally gorgeous Café Society, another later-day two-star Allen movie that was perfectly watchable because of its radiant visuals and pleasing cast. But if Coup de chance is to be Allen's final feature, I think it's a more fitting finale than Café Society would have been, to say nothing of his prior films, the trifling Rifkin's Festival (2020) and the uncomfortably (and seemingly unconsciously) pseudo-autobiographical Wonder Wheel (2017). There's something fitting about the movie being a fully French production. France has been the only country not to collectively shun Allen in the #metoo era when the accusations of sexual abuse made by his adopted daughter Dylan when she was seven suddenly had a whole lot more resonance if not more evidence of guilt.

It's practically impossible to separate the artist from the art in the case of Woody Allen, and since all reviews of his work these days seem to require stating what side one comes down on, I'll just state for the record that—after reading both Allen's and Farrow's memoirs, watching the documentary features and docuseries each had a heavy hand in, following the coverage about the case at the time it occurred and reading dozens of think pieces written decades later, as well as Moses Farrow's lengthy blog post—I think anyone who claims to know definitively what did or didn't happen in that family is not someone I'm interested in engaging in a serious conversation with. Woody and Mia are strange people, and I wouldn't put anything past either of them, but that's not going to get me to stop watching either of their films.

Even though the entire second half of Allen's six decades of output has been spotty, he still made far more good to exceptional movies than any other writer/director; possibly more than any other filmmaker of any kind. It's a hell of a career, and, in contrast to the themes and sentiments of Coup de chance and much of Allen's other work, it wasn't all luck.

Twitter Capsule:

For his 50th, Woody Allen returns to the themes and plots that have served him well in his few acclaimed serious dramas, a story of adultery and murder among the rich and beautiful. The 87-year-old has been creeping to a halt for the past decade, and this insubstantial but gorgeous trifle is a perfectly serviceable movie to go out on.