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It’s a Beautiful Life at "Belle Vie,” Even When Way Past the Welcome
Watch as a small restaurant goes for broke before going broke.
There’s an overwhelming positivity to the documentary Belle Vie that is difficult to escape - not unlike a black hole, it’s a thing of no escape. Surely, the story of restaurant owner Vincent Samarco, trying to make his way in Los Angeles in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, could’ve been one of struggle and personal tragedy. Indeed, Vincent’s business struggles and suffers a drawn-out tragedy, but through it all, his French-born attitude, in the face of bankruptcy and loss of work, just dominates how he deals with everything. Does this man ever cry? Belle Vie likely didn’t have that kind of access to him, but one can imagine.
His restaurant, a wine and food bistro, was situated between a McDonald’s and a KFC, in an L.A. neighborhood that he just adores. The location was perfectly poetic, as his journey is of independence and DIY entrepreneurship. Belle Vie is a film of rolling confrontations and follow-alongs with Vincent, capturing him at his most personable and in character. Rarely does the camera ever veer to someone else (usually his wife, sometimes his chef), and when it does, we continue to get people looking at the bright side of such dramatic scenarios.
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Nobody dies of illness (thankfully), nobody gets mad, and politics are kept out. Idle hands are the devil’s playground, and Vincent is always busy, whether it’s fitting his bistro with Plexi glass dividers or building an illegal patio out back. He pops open bottles of wine and talks constantly about socializing and being part of the community. Constantly. Many times over. Normally, I’m all for positivity in the face of everything, but Belle Vie is unrelenting in this regard.
Where’s the expression of conflict? When Vincent is cleaning out his business after closing for good, he’s just focusing on each item he’s keeping and what they represent for him. What else are you thinking, sir? Let us in. Does Belle Vie bother to ask certain questions, or is the subject just very guarded? In between whimsical thoughts and commentary, Vincent will talk of legal issues, but then just shrug and go back to a picture hanging on his wall, or he’ll chat about how he loves people.
Belle Vie is titled after Vincent’s restaurant, so we know it’s about that neighborhood hub. And Vincent, of course, is the location’s primary orator, so he’s integral to the tale. Despite the fine outlook on life, the movie wears itself thin, even in the most interesting of eras and developments. The chef may get deported? Oh well. Massive debt? Let’s have a drink.
As a New Orleanian, I appreciate such feelings. As a moviegoer, give me more. Something more. Anything more. Otherwise, cut some fat and keep things lean. Some fat. Leave a bit, for taste. Right? Right. 2.5/5