It’s heartening to see that even at 70, Catherine Deneuve still warrants tailor-made star vehicles in the French cinema. It’s even more amazing that this striking actress can still command the screen in a film comprised mostly of close-ups of her gorgeous face.
On My Way is a breezy little romance, an overlong French Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown that has Deneuve playing a one-time beauty queen on the run from her troubles on the lovely back roads criss-crossing rural Brittany.
Bettie is a widow who has a small restaurant in the town where she grew up. She fusses over customers and keeps her staff on its toes. But when she goes home, we see she lives with her aged mother. We learn that her longtime paramour, a married man, has finally left his wife — but for another woman, not her. She’s being hassled by the Miss France beauty pageant organizers to come to a reunion, forced to revisit her better looking past.
And it’s all just a bit too much. If nothing else, she needs a cigarette. But in this corner of convenience-store-free France, on a Sunday, that’s a problem. Bettie takes off in her aged Mercedes station wagon on a cross-France odyssey, looking for smokes, stumbling into bars (and a drunken one-night stand who exclaims, “You must’ve been stunning!”), dodging some failures and finally facing up to others.
“I don’t know what I’m doing,” a singer croons from the radio, in English. “I don’t know where I’m going.” If Bettie speaks English (the film is in French,with English subtitles), she knows just what he means.
The rambling trek picks up a passenger when her highly strung daughter (Camille) fobs Bettie’s grandson on her to deliver to the boy’s paternal grandfather. Charly (Nemo Schiffman) is as mercurial as his mom (and maybe grandmom). He is alternately charming and rude, comforting and manic. He’s just the lad to have along when you’re out of cash, your cell phone keeps dying as you call and call the man who left you in the lurch, and you keep taking wrong turns on the way from here to there.
The script fills us in on Bettie’s romantic background as she tells bits of her back-story (interwoven affairs, going back decades) to random strangers, her troubled relationship with her daughter is touched on and her credit card is maxed out.
Deneuve suggests the self-absorption of the beautiful, coping with the petty insults of age, making Bettie a bundle of nerves wrestling with a complicated past and an increasingly frazzled present.
See it for her performance, and a lovely slice of French scenery, on the backgrounds of a French summer, when the flowers are in bloom and no one but no one will sell you a cigarette.
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Nemo Schiffman, Gerard Carouste, Camille.
Director: Emmanuelle Bercot.
Screenwriters: Emmanuelle Bercot, Jerome Tonnerre.
A Cohen Media Group release. Running time: 113 minutes. In French with English subtitles. Adult themes. Opens March 28 in Miami-Dade only: Coral Gables Art Cinema.