In an open letter to U.S. filmgoers, French actress, and in this effort, director/co-writer Emmanuelle Bercot professes love for her cinema idol, Catherine Denueve in her latest film, “On My Way,” (“Elle s’en va”). Bercot explains,
“For me, ‘On My Way’ is not a film with Catherine Deneuve, it’s a film that is for and by Catherine Deneuve. The film is a double first for me as a filmmaker: to work with a big star, an icon of cinema, and to write a film with one inspiration only, the desire to film an actress, Catherine.”
And Bercot certainly succeeds with her film Valentine to Deneuve.
Occupying nearly every frame, Deneuve’s Bettie, is a woman in her mid-sixties, in the midst of a life weighing her down. Opening on a long shot of a Bettie on the shore of a lake, the camera moves in, following her from behind, glimpsing only the back of her head. She finally turns – the golden, somewhat age-defying Bettie, that then quickly cuts to a black & white photo of Bettie as a pageant queen, Miss Brittany, some 40-years ago. Is this a woman whose dreams have been dashed? A woman whose life might be passing her by? Perhaps.
Bettie runs her family’s deep-in-debt restaurant with her mother (Claude Gensac), who she also now lives with. Bettie also bluntly discovers, from her disapproving mother, that the man she’s been having an affair with has left his wife, but not for Bettie but for a second, newly pregnant mistress (so French!).
It’s no wonder that Bettie walks out of the restaurant the next day for a drive to clear her head and to buy some cigarettes (she had given up smoking). But a simple drive turns into a road trip that takes Bettie further and further from her daily life.
Adventures begin in this quest for cigarettes – one comedic incident comes from an older man trying to roll a cigarette with his arthritic hands (and as a side note, this non-actor had no idea who Deneuve was; he never heard of her). But her travels continue with a local stop at a roadhouse bar, “Le Ranch;” flings, and of course getting lost on the road.
Bettie is also called upon by her semi-estranged daughter, Muriel (Camille) to pick up her grandson, Charly (a winning Nemo Schiffman; son of Bercot and cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman), and drive him to his grandfather, Alain (Gerard Garouste) some hours away.
This turn of events shifts the film into high gear as we see a new dynamic take shape for Bettie with her budding relationship with Charly. There are several narrative twists and turns on this drive, and Bettie’s life might indeed be open to a new chapter.
Like many road trips, “On My Way” does meander and at times focus is lost to the film’s detriment. Luckily, Deneuve is so watchable, that even in these weaker moments, one stays with the film. Bercot has a fine eye for capturing life’s moments, and it’s refreshing to see a woman in her 60’s still have a lust to live. Although the cinematography and acting are top-notch, even for the cast, which is comprised mostly of non-pros, one wishes Bercot would have had a better editorial sense to create what could have been a sharper, more compelling piece.
Nonetheless, it’s Deneuve’s film, and lovers of the actress will still be enthralled with “On My Way.”
“On My Way” is 113 minutes, Not Rated and opens March 21 at the Landmark Theatre in Los Angeles.