Sometimes it’s difficult to determine how much of a film’s lassitude is intentional, how much of its low-keyed effect comes from a willful, existential placidity and how much of it is simply the result of the fiber of the narrative having leaked through the controlling fingers of its writer-director. Nicole Garcia’s Place Vendôme is such a film, a story of duplicity among gem dealers which offers no suspense and a psychological study which refuses to probe. What it does offer is a star vehicle for Catherine Deneuve, watchable but dreary and hinged on the legend of her abiding elegance.
Deneuve is, ostensibly, playing against type. As Marianne she’s floundering in the second phase of middle age — alcoholic and mentally unstable, married to the caring but ineffectual Vincent Malivert (Bernard Fresson), a respected name in the haute couture world of expensive jewelry. When Vincent’s shame over his shadowy doings and fear of being exposed overwhelm his apparently precarious sense of self, he decides to commit suicide, leaving poor Marianne to either sink further into dementia or else pull herself together and pick up where he left off. Slowly (but not too slowly) Marianne changes from mad housewife back to the savvy businessperson she was before her crackup.
Much of the film is a roundelay between Marianne, her late husband’s ex-mistress Nathalie (Emmanuelle Seigner — looking very nice — one of the advantages of being discovered by Roman Polanski is that 20 years later you’re still young), Nathalie’s ex-lover Jean-Pierre (Jean-Pierre Bacri), who Marianne’s become involved with, and Nathalie’s new lover Battistelli (Jacques Dutronc), who is Marianne’s old flame. Battistelli was also the instigator of Marianne’s descent into a boozy twilight, having betrayed her years earlier during some elaborate gem scam. Given Marianne’s reserves of strength, it hardly seems likely that she would have fallen apart over such a thing, but that’s the story.
Place Vendôme is melancholy and, finally, dourly romantic. Deneuve won a best actress award for this at the Venice Film Festival, but I found her performance to be unconvincingly minimalist, a few twitches and a glassy stare called on to convey her early strife, her usual and natural elegance returning with her recovery. And though she’s a grown into a much admired grande dame presence, I preferred her in the old days, back when she was impossibly beautiful and game for the abuse of the likes of Polanski and Buñuel.
Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward, Detroit), Friday through Sunday. Call 313-833-3237.
Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for the Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].