The main event of the recent Rendez-Vous with French Cinema film festival in New York City was an appearance by cinema icon Catherine Deneuve to discuss her latest film “On My Way” (“Elle s’en va”), directed and co-written by Emmanuelle Bercot. This very entertaining film contains one of Deneuve’s best recent performances.
Deneuve plays Bettie, a former Miss Brittany who has remained in her small home town. Photos of the young Deneuve show Bettie’s past. She runs the family restaurant which is struggling financially. When her mother tells Bettie that Bettie’s married lover is leaving her for a younger woman, Bettie impulsively leaves the restaurant and drives away. Deneuve’s face conveys pain as well as a range of conflicted emotions. Bettie decides to resume smoking and the film amusingly shows her unsuccessful attempts to purchase cigarettes. In one of the film’s best scenes, an elderly man rolls a cigarette for Bettie.
When Bettie keeps driving, the film becomes a lively road movie that gives a comic twist to Deneuve’s image. Bettie stops at a bar called Le Ranch and ends up wearing a curly pink wig. A much younger man tells her that when she was younger, “you must have been stunning.”
Bettie gets a phone call from her daughter Muriel (French pop musician Camille) with whom she has a strained relationship. Muriel asks her mother to drive her son Charly to his paternal grandfather’s while she travels for a potential job. Bettie agrees and the driving continues.
Bettie gradually relaxes around the grandson with whom she has had little contact. Charly is played by Nemo Schiffman, a natural presence, the son of Emmanuelle Bercot and the director of photography. Deneuve an the boy have a good on-screen chemistry. Financial problems arise and Bettie and Charly end up at a reunion of beauty queens, a terrific sequence. All the generations of Bettie’s family end up together, and as Charly says “No one gets along in this family.”
After the film, I asked Catherine Deneuve the first question, why she wanted to make “On My Way”. She answered that she had seen previous films from director Emmanuelle Bercot and she wanted to “do a film with that woman.” She thought that the role of Bettie, written for her, was an “interesting, nice part” and she liked the story. Deneuve mentioned one of Bercot’s earlier films “Clement”, about a woman who falls in love with a boy in his early teens.
As an actress Deneuve remains open to new experiences. She spoke about the film’s short shooting schedule, due to budgetary constraints, that prevented a lot of improvisation. Many non-professionals were in the cast. Deneuve recommended a friend Gerard Garouste, a painter, for the role of Charly’s grandfather. She said that the old man who rolled the cigarette for her character was a peasant who “did not know til the last minute” he would be in the film as he was a “last minute replacement.” The man lived in a farm that has not changed since the middle of the 19th century.
I asked another question. I told Deneuve that I think some of her best performances (“My Favorite Season”, “Changing Times”) have been in the films of André Téchiné and asked her to describe him as a director. Deneuve replied that Téchiné is a “wonderful” director, a “favorite”, and “a great friend”. She said that Téchiné “demands a lot” from the actors, often filming takes in long shots. She added that he has exceptional taste and is “delicate with actors”. Deneuve has made six previous films with Téchiné, plus one not yet released.
When the moderator said it was time for her to leave, Deneuve said “One more question.” When asked about aging in film, she replied that it is “easier to grow old” in France than in the US.