Claude Lelouch fields an all-star cast from Johnny Hallyday to Jean Dujardin and Beatrice Dalle

Chacun sa vie

Dir: Claude Lelouch. France, 2017, 113 mins

The prolific and inimitable Claude Lelouch remains absolutely true to himself and joyous, unfettered — some would say, unhinged — storytelling in Chacun sa vie, an actor-studded ensemble romp about how love makes the world go ‘round. Most of the interlocking characters — the majority of whom work in the legal or medical fields in the town of Beaune in Burgundy — end up asking at least one other person, “have you ever cheated on your spouse?” and “what’s your sign?” Suggesting that there’s anything wrong with what’s on screen would be akin to criticising a bunch of kids having a great time at a playground.

Lelouch is such a fearless storyteller and so good at juggling expectations that he can keep recycling his old tricks in ways that elicit respect amid the groans.

The full title - Chacun sa vie (et son intime conviction) - could translate as “To Each His Own — And His or Her Innermost Personal Conviction.” Lelouch clearly believes that romance, often where least expected, is the driving force in human behavior but also that relationships run their course. And just as you’ve been set up to think that something sexist or racist is taking place, Lelouch deftly executes a “gotcha!” that always lands on the side of live-and-let-live and Vive la différence.

With this and his delightfully self-mocking role in Guillame Canet’s recent hit Rock n Roll, iconic French rock star Johnny Hallyday is establishing an entertaining sideline in playing himself. An extended scene between Hallyday, Jean Dujardin and Antoine Dulery in the men’s room of a police station in Beaune is an instant classic but probably only for viewers (of which there are many) who understand what a Johnny Hallyday is, the way others grasp what a Keith Richards or a Johnny Depp is.

The running gag involving the real Hallyday and a singing look-alike inspires other grin-inducing situations including one with Elsa Zylberstein and Vincent Perez in fine form.

The lengthy scene in which a career prostitute — a confidently zaftig Beatrice Dalle — bids farewell to her final client before retiring (“Twenty guys a day for 20 years — that’s 150,000 guys in my bed!”) is both touching and funny.

Multiple scenes touch on lawyer Antoine’s (Christophe Lambert, raspy-voiced and very convincing) serious alcoholism and the toll it’s taking on his wife (Marianne Denicourt). And you know you’re watching an Authentic French Movie when Denicourt summons her husband’s mistress (Mathilde Seigner) for a friendly glass of champagne and a frank chat about Antoine.

The main doctor at the local hospital (Jean-Marie Bigard) conducts his rounds on a hoverboard and instructs his staff to tell really bad jokes to patients because (you guessed it): laughter is the best medicine.  The thing is, the sometimes painfully old-fashioned or off-colour jokes do result in laughs.

Lelouch is such a fearless storyteller and so good at juggling expectations that he can keep recycling his old tricks in ways that elicit respect amid the groans. Driving fast in a vintage sports car with the top down and a woman other than one’s lawful spouse in the passenger seat? Check. Multiple dream sequences which viewers will mistakenly accept as real? Check.

By the time a wealthy vintner (Michel Leeb) is presented an adjusted tax bill by a stern female tax inspector (“Uh, that’s not a fine, that’s a telephone number!”) you’re telling yourself that there are more raw ideas in just one reel of a Lelouch film than there are in most movies in their entirety.

Near-constant music — more than one character is a singer and a jazz festival just happens to be underway in the town square — serves as surprisingly effective if shamelessly obvious narrative glue.

This venture is so populated with household-name actors and comics that no fewer than 39 of them get their names on the screen, solo. It’s a feature-length lesson in how you can get away with anything if good actors play their roles with conviction.

Production companies: Les Films 13, Davis Films, France 2 Cinéma 

International sales: Metropolitan Filmexport,

Producers: Samuel Hadida, Victor Hadida, Claude Lelouch

Screenplay: Claude Lelouch in collaboration with Grégoire Lacroix, Valérie Perrin, Pierre Uytterhoeven 

Cinematography: Robert Alazraki, BERTO, Claude Lelouch 

Editor: Stéphane Mazalaigue

Production design: Bernard Warnas

Music: Francis Lai, Dimitri Naiditch, Laurent Couson 

Main cast: Johnny Hallyday, Jean Dujardin, Julie Ferrier, Antoine Dulery, Eric Dupond-Moretti, Marianne Denicourt , Christophe Lambert, Nadia Fares, Jean-Marie Bigard, Liane Foly, Elsa Zylberstein, Vincent Perez, Mathilde Seigner, Michel Leeb,  Deborah Farnçois, Francis Huster, Ramzy Bedia, Beatrice Dalle