Mediocre: On My Way

On My Way (2013)
Directed by Emmanuelle Bercot
Written by Emmanuelle Bercot, Jérôme Tonnerre
Produced by Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonnier, Christine De Jekel
Starring Catherine Deneuve, Némo Schiffman, Gérard Garouste, Camille, Claude Gensac, Paul Hamy, Mylène Demongeot, Hafsia Herzi, Séréphin Ngakoutou Beninga

One would be in less danger
From the wiles of the stranger
If one’s own kin and kith
Were more fun to be with.

–Ogden Nash, Family Court

Her iconic visage and surname have adorned innumerable advertisements; upon fairly few as this dull drama’s theatrical posters and billboards has it been so conspicuously, necessarily engrossed, for she’s prime among its few assets. When her relationship with a unfaithful lover sours simultaneous to the seizure of her eatery for arrearage, Deneuve’s restaurateur and whilom Miss Brittany is opportunely at liberty to attend a reunion of regional rivals for the title of Miss France (c.’69), and escort her bedevillingly bratty grandson (Schiffman) to the rural residence of his gruff, agnatic grandfather (Garouste) while her dyspeptic daughter (Camille) pursues an internship. Bercot slavishly observes the bromidic burden and stale scenario of archetypically post-feminine road movies, in most of which a protagonist abandons her responsibilities and their collateral cumbers to embrace personal, imperative intangibles as she “finds herself.” If her perdurable leading lady’s unshakable credibility and idiosyncratically perfect performance buoy this production to the surface of mediocrity, it’s still weighted there by the cliches and contrivances of its directress’s bourgeois quasi-progressivism: every independently enterprising bachelor (Hamy, a smarmy chapman of smuggled cigarettes) is a lascivious sleazebag, yet cantankerous politicians of the mainstream left (Garouste’s socialist mayoral candidate) are catches; the sole black stranger (Beninga, as an affable security guard) is nobly empathetic; crabby careerists unfit for motherhood aren’t portrayed as negligent in their life’s most significant undertaking, and their equally, obnoxiously waspish children are to be deemed adorable. A few scenes suit their star’s charm, as when she confabulates with an elderly farmer who laboriously rolls her a cigarette during the first act, participates in a united photoshoot with her peers in the second, and enjoys romance and rapprochement in the third, but these vignettes seem intervallically inharmonious with the peeving postmodernism of the whole. Withal, Bercot’s nepotism bears mixed results: her partner and DP, Guillaume Schiffman, lenses vividly idyllic scenery alfresco contributing to the pastoral ambience and beauty complementing her scanty story, but their son’s unendurable as the miffing stripling. Naturally, Deneuve and the cast’s contemporary boomers outshine their junior co-stars. Despite Bercot’s basic capability, her script co-written with Tonnerre is comprised of fluff exceeding substance, plodding at the velocity of a crippled snail. Rufus Wainwright’s maudlin whine and typically twee tunes by Sufjan Stevens and The Divine Comedy render two crucial scenes and conclusive credits plainly exquisite. This is only, scarcely recommended for Deneuve’s devotees; even when it flails, she shines.

Palatable: Manon 70

Manon 70 (1968)
Directed by Jean Aurel
Written by Abbé Prévost, Jean Aurel, Cécil Saint-Laurent
Produced by Robert Dorfmann, Yvon Guézel, Luggi Waldleitner
Starring Catherine Deneuve, Sami Frey, Jean-Claude Brialy, Robert Webber, Elsa Martinelli
Transposed to chic, swinging ’60s Paris, this slightly torpid yet titillating umpteenth adaptation of Prévost’s classic fabular novella Manon Lescaut portrays the pursuit of a cosmopolitan bon vivant (Deneuve) by a handsome, sportive news correspondent (Frey) who wins her heart, but not her troth; addicted to her luxe lifestyle, the unscrupulous beauty will bed any man of means to maintain it, and her promiscuity piques his irascibility like an open flame to a dynamite fuse. Perchance the most listless treatment of this narrative, Aurel’s mode here nearly effects sporadic longueur, its finest moments contingent on the considerable charisma of its gorgeous stars and settings. However, his conference of drollery and a perversely modern prurience to this story while dispensing with its tragic conclusion is laudably elegant; a less able filmmaker (as King or Brass) would surely have contrived something approximating dopey softcore porn of a tawdry or soppy mold. Ever debonaire, Brialy steals his every scene as Deneuve’s opportunistic sibling, whose ingratiating cajolery and chicanery coaxes her transient lovers almost as effectually as her enticements. Magnificent orchestral and chamber standards by Vivaldi and a couple of groovy tunes courtesy of Gainsbourg sublime the ambience of this flick’s admittedly trifling proceedings. For languid summer beach parties, this is the picture of choice.

Favorites: Le Sauvage

Le Sauvage (1975)
Directed by Jean-Paul Rappeneau
Written by Jean-Paul Rappeneau, Élisabeth Rappeneau, Jean-Loup Dabadie
Produced by Ralph Baum, Raymond Danon, Jean-Luc Ormières
Starring Yves Montand, Catherine Deneuve, Luigi Vannucchi, Tony Roberts, Bobo Lewis
The tranquil isolation of a rugged yet refined French expatriate (Montand) domiciled on an island off the coast of Caracas is disrupted by a fortuitous encounter with a mercurial newlywed (Deneuve) fleeing her brutish, oleaginous husband (Vannucchi) and an American nightclub owner whose original Toulouse-Lautrec she’s abstracted in redress of his arrearage. An accomplished cast makes the most of their unidimensional roles: Deneuve is as beguiling (and bleached!) as ever, Montand exerts his prodigious presence to exude a curbed fervency, and Vannucchi and Roberts play their farce to the hilt. No less diverting is a fine production design, replete with homemade mechanisms and agriculture demonstrating the inspired functionality of this hermit’s insular lifestyle. It’s as compelling, riotous and romantic as French genre pictures come, parrying prognosis with a novel plot twist every twenty minutes, though its leads’ destined denouement is as ineluctable as satisfying.

Palatable: Fort Saganne

Fort Saganne (1984)
Directed by Alain Corneau
Written by Louis Gardel, Henri de Turenne, Alain Corneau
Produced by Samuel Bronston, Albina du Boisrouvray
Starring Gérard Depardieu, Philippe Noiret, Roger Dumas, Michel Duchaussoy, Sophie Marceau, Catherine Deneuve, Saïd Amadis, Jean-Louis Richard
Essentially the French answer to Lean’s Lawrence, this handsomely staged and shot enactment of Louis Gardel’s novel narrates the military ascent of a peasant Legionnaire (Depardieu) whose valorous feats in the Saharan front secure regional French imperium and his reputation as a prominent jefe. His personal life’s ironically more troublous: tragedy eventuates from a strained fraternity, and his affections are divided for a politician’s spoilt and sour daughter (Marceau) and an alluring journalist (Deneuve). Depardieu’s larger than life, exuding stoic heart and heroism as the dauntless officer, which is just as well: his is the only character who’s adequately defined. Corneau accurately conveys France’s prewar zeitgeist, but wastes his stars (especially Deneuve) by pretermitting most character development in favor of decidedly shallow relationships. Philippe Sarde’s typically fine score is also mawkishly overused in ably realized yet musically overheated combat scenes that can’t compare to those unforgettably silent, such as an Arab warrior’s (Amadis) grisly amputation, or a lovesick valediction where Depardieu and Deneuve communicate more with a few expressions than the totality of their discourse. Ultimately, Saganne‘s as unsatisfying as photogenic, but its conclusion’s so poignant and production’s so immersive that less discriminating or demanding aesthetes may not have cause to care.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Lawrence of Arabia.

Sublime: Hotel des Amériques

Hotel des Amériques (1981)
Directed by André Téchiné
Written by André Téchiné, Gilles Taurand
Produced by Alain Sarde
Starring Catherine Deneuve, Patrick Dewaere, Etienne Chicot, Sabine Haudepin, Dominique Lavanant, François Perrot, Josiane Balasko
Desolation’s the commonality that binds an anesthesiologist (Deneuve) whose addiction to barbiturates stanches the grief attending her inamorato’s recent death, and the erratically unbalanced son (Dewaere) of a hotel manager when she nearly runs him down in the wee hours; their untenable yet persisting romance provokes a constellation of acquaintances, especially his guarded yet ardent sister (Haudepin) and intolerably ignoble best friend (Chicot, as usual). Their first of seven collaborations to date finds Téchiné and Deneuve alike enkindling the best in one another as he explores his protagonists’ fervor and heartbreak, skirting elegiac conventions to relate the durability of a love buckled beneath the weight of derangement and insecurity. Through Téchiné’s lenses, Biarritz brims with forlorn poignancy and his single, elegantly exposed augury consorts with the yearning emanative in every surpassing personation, attesting the Gallic conviction that all solitude either bespeaks or occasions misery.

Favorites: Le choc

Le choc (1982)
Directed by Robin Davis, Alain Delon
Written by Jean-Patrick Manchette, Dominique Robelet, Claude Veillot, Robin Davis, Alain Delon
Produced by Alain Sarde, Alain Terzian
Starring Alain Delon, Catherine Deneuve, Etienne Chicot, François Perrot, Catherine Leprince, Philippe Léotard
Weary of his sanguinary craft, an urbane, veteran assassin (Delon) purposes to exit his lucrative billet in pursuit of legitimate forays to the reprehension of his employers, who apparently resort to extremes to recover his services. Few leading men were so apposite as Delon for the impassive suavity of his role, which he justifies with an understated, polished portrayal that indues credibility to his protagonist’s Bondian savoir faire; as the fetching spouse of a loutish turkey breeder (Léotard), Deneuve radiates vulnerable sensuality as his predictable love interest, and Chicot is again and condignly typecast as a dour reprobate. In concert with genre journeyman Davis, Delon enhanced the pedestrian premise of an obscure novel with an investment of slick action sequences, novel interiors, wry raillery and its gorgeous, middle-aged leads’ potent, prurient chemistry, elevating what might have been a routine suspense feature into a superbly engaging outing. For viewers weary of farcically hyperbolic action pictures, this may suffice as a refreshing alternative to silly drivel concocted by the likes of Besson or West.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Le professionnel.