“I’m seeing it logged on Letterboxd. You know anything?”
This was the message I received from an industry friend. The topic was Woody Allen’s 50-somethingth directorial effort, Coup de Chance. Little did I know a network of file sharing and secret screenings were already underway, part of a series that (almost) included Timothée Chalamet.
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The 88-year-old director’s latest and perhaps final film debuted at the Venice Film Festival out of competition in early September 2023 to solid reviews, and is currently boasting an 84 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. (The Hollywood Reporter’s critic Leslie Felperin was muted in her praise, calling it “competent but forgettable.”) The droll relationship drama with a soupçon of criminality has accrued $7.4 million in receipts, according to BoxOfficeMojo, with its top four markets being Italy, Spain, Russia and France.
Yet the people leaving their witty remarks on the popular cinephile social networking service Letterboxd were not doing so from overseas. “Watched this during my office hours and felt like I was pausing a dirty movie every time a student came in,” Adam Nayman, the Toronto-based critic, academic and author of a volume in praise of Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls wrote.
While Allen’s two previous projects — Rifkin’s Festival and A Rainy Day in New York — were shot in the post-#MeToo era, they were distributed in North America by MPI Media Group (the latter being financed then dropped by Amazon, resulting in a legal settlement for Allen). However, nothing is in the works for Coup de Chance. Allen, of course, has been accused of sexually abusing adopted daughter Dylan Farrow, and though the Connecticut state’s attorney did not charge him after a 1993 investigation, public sentiment against him is considerably sour.
Nevertheless, Allen is, even his most ardent critics would agree, a substantial filmmaker, so there are many curious about this project, particularly since word is that it’s a lot better than his recent entries. (His last bona fide box office winner was 2011’s Midnight in Paris; 2013’s Blue Jasmine resulted in an Academy Award for Cate Blanchett; and there was sincere “Oscar buzz” for Kate Winslet and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro for Wonder Wheel before reports in The New York Times and The New Yorker kicked off the #MeToo movement; the latter, of course, penned by Allen’s son, Ronan Farrow.)
I pinged a friend who works in independent film distribution to see if he knew about links. He was quick to direct me to one, but then told me to cool my heels — it was in French with no subtitles. Soon thereafter, a second link appeared. Wait! Don’t watch that. It was taken, he later explained, from a DVD rip translating from French to Dutch, then someone sicced an AI program on it to get it from Dutch into English. A few days later, a cleaner copy emerged.
An invitation-only movie torrenting site now hosts a version uploaded by a cinephile/linguist known only as “Fergus,” who apparently “used the retail Dutch subtitles as a point of departure” and “walked carefully through them line by line, making a lot of adjustments and corrections while watching the film several times.”
Having viewed the film for the purposes of this article (on my friend’s Plex, because I don’t know how to torrent), I can attest that the subtitling does not feel like the work of a machine or someone who didn’t speak either language well.
But Fergus’ handiwork isn’t just being screened by people at home. On condition of not revealing where specifically (as this isn’t exactly legal), I’ve been informed that a bar/event space in New York’s East Village recently hosted an underground “NYC Premiér” of Coup de Chance. A photo shown to me of a handwritten sign (with a cute cartoon of the Empire State Building and the Eiffel Tower) guided patrons “this way” to the clandestine room and announced that the evening’s entertainment was hosted by “Woody Allen et ‘Movie Friends.’”
If the sign suggests this was an established group, that’s not by chance.
“Yeah, they’ve done this before,” my link-sharing friend, who was not in attendance for the illegal and unauthorized Coup de Chance screening, told me.
I spoke on the telephone with someone “in cahoots” with the organizers of these events, who wishes to remain anonymous, but explained that the clique met as employees of Kim’s Video in the early aughts and most now work professionally in the film industry in one way or another.
“I don’t even particularly like these movies,” the insider chuckled, revealing that they’ve also screened Roman Polanski’s 2023 film The Palace just “to liberate art.”
No money exchanges hands during these screenings, though surely one can buy a beer (or a cognac, if you are Melvil Poupaud’s character from Coup de Chance) at the bar. They are not strictly invite-only, I’m told, but “everyone there is there because someone hipped them to it.”
In addition to Coup de Chance, the group showed Allen’s Rifkin’s Festival and, years ago, hosted another “premiere” of A Rainy Day in New York. And here is where a remarkable rumor was confirmed for me:
Timothée Chalamet, Woody Allen’s Gatsby Welles himself, showed up at the space the night of this initial screening. It remains unclear if this was a chance encounter (again, it’s a pretty beloved spot since the 1990s), or if he was aware that cinephile pirates were about to screen the 2019 film in which he stars opposite Selena Gomez, Elle Fanning, Jude Law and Rebecca Hall.
Apparently, there was an issue with the file, and Chalamet ultimately drifted away. A second event, in which the movie was successfully screened, saw no celebrities unless you count names you recognize from “Film Twitter.”
As far as Coup de Chance (which means “stroke of luck”) is concerned as a film, this viewer is ready to declare common wisdom correct and say it is far better than Allen’s recent output. The lead performance by French actress Lou de Laâge is particularly good. Had this been a U.S.-based production in a parallel timeline, someone like Dakota Johnson would be getting accolades for it.
The movie is similar in tone to Match Point or Irrational Man in its treatment of happenstance leading to life-altering experiences, the decision to commit murder, and the random distribution of justice. On Letterboxd, critic Will Sloan took note of how the untrustworthy villain played by Poupaud is obsessed with model trains, which is staggering when you know the importance that model trains have in the accusations made against Allen. There are also three lines of dialogue that amount to someone expressing that they’d rather be in New York.
All of which is to say, it’s an interesting movie worthy of conversation given the importance Allen has in cinema. Maybe someday people in North America who would like to see it will be able to without sneaking around.
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