DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
PLACE VENDOME (director/writer: Nicole Garcia; screenwriter: Jacques Fieschi; cinematographer: Laurent Dailland; editors: Luc Barnier/ Francoise Bonnot; music: Richard Robbins; cast: Catherine Deneuve (Marianne Malivert), Jean-Pierre Bacri (Jean-Pierre), Emmanuelle Seigner (Nathalie), Jacques Dutronc (Battistelli), Bernard Fresson (Vincent Malivert), François Berléand (Eric Malivert),  Laszló Szábó (Charlie Rosen), Philippe Clévenot (Kleisner), Otto Tausig (Sam Balin), Malik Zidi (Sam's Son), Larry Lamb (Christopher), Julian Fellowes (Wajman); Runtime: 115; Empire Pictures/Artificial Eye; 1998-France/UK/Belgium)

 
"Catherine Deneuve is a real gem in this demanding role."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Nicole Garcia is more known as an actress than as a director (as a director -- "Every Other Weekend"/"Favorite Son" -- as an actress she starred in Alain Resnais' 1980 "Mon Oncle d'Amerique"). Here she directs and co-writes this atmospheric thriller set in the diamond industry with her favorite collaborator Jacques Fieschi. The film's title is named after Place Vendôme, a fancy square in Paris where the Ritz Hotel is and where several ultra-expensive jewelry shops are located including the film's prestigious Malivert jewelers. It's run by the Malivert brothers, the sixtysomething Vincent (Bernard Fresson) and his few years the younger brother Eric (Berléand). Vincent's internationally respected company has fallen on bad times, but it has kept that all hidden. Eric and the board members suspect that Vincent is operating on his own and is involved in several shady deals. One of them involves a large uncut diamond stolen from De Beers's London branch that came into his possession, which if publicly disclosed could ruin the reputation of his firm. There is also an involvement with the Russian mafia to further complicate matters.

Marianne Malivert is played by the still attractive 57-year-old Catherine Deneuve, who started in films when she was 21 in Jaques Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. She's unhappily married to Vincent and has been in and out of exclusive clinics with her drinking problem for ages, but to no avail as her behavior remains unpredictable. The weary Vincent doesn't know what else to do with her, as she starts drinking again as soon as she returns home. Bernard Fresson is a veteran actor who appeared with Deneuve in Buñuel's 1967 "Belle de Jour."

Marianne was once tops in the gem field but she was blacklisted 20 years ago when her lover, the one to whom she passed on all her knowledge of gems, Battistelli (Jacques Dutronc), double-crossed her in an unscrupulous jewelry deal and deserted her in a Swiss hotel where she was busted in a police sting. She never saw him again. It was Vincent's firm that the fraud was perpetrated against but he refused to press charges. Two months later they were married.

But now that Vincent's company is on the verge of bankruptcy and his board of directors suspect him of making some unethical deals that will besmirch its name, he therefore figures there's nothing more he can do to save his life. So he brings home a pouch containing several stolen cut diamonds from the De Beers cartel which he tells his out-of-it wife is theirs and not the firm's, as he places the pouch in her care. He will then self-sacrifice himself by driving his car into a logging truck, though his death is officially called an accident. It now becomes a mystery tale about a jewelry scheme, as the widow goes more or less on the wagon and soberly faces all those who now pursue her for the diamonds.

The pursuers are: the agents of the De Beers cartel; her brother-in-law Eric, who is disdainful of her drinking and needs to get either her signature to sign the company over to a Bombay firm or the gems to save the family business from possible bankruptcy; and the mysterious Battistelli (Jacques Dutronc), a shady operator whom the legitimate gem dealers detest. He's someone with connections to the Russian mafia. Battistelli uses an ambitious, attractive young gem saleswoman in Vincent's firm, Nathalie (Emmanuelle Seigner), to act as his courier. She was the former mistress of Vincent's. But she has fallen in love with the crutch walking man with a limp, the world-weary but intriguing Battistelli. To be with him she has left her longtime loser boyfriend Jean-Pierre (Jean-Pierre Bacri), a disbarred lawyer now working as a repo man. He's the pushy type and follows her everywhere in hopes of them getting back again. In a series of coincidences, he ends up meeting Marianne and pursuing her both professionally and romantically. He secretly ends up working for Mr. Kleisner, a mystery person with connections to the gem dealers searching for the stolen diamonds. What Marianne and Jean-Pierre have most in common, is their professional disgrace and that they are prevented from using the skills they were educated for in their careers.

Marianne is reminded of her younger self by Nathalie, and tries unsuccessfully to give her advice. She even tells about her damaging relationship with Battistelli as a warning.

The film's prevailing mood is of despair, as these materialists are all unhappy even though they are surrounded by what they crave -- enormous wealth and sparkling jewels. Marianne regains a vigor in her life by dressing up again and getting involved in her chosen profession, as she's given another chance to free herself from the past ghosts. Vincent's death and the chase she's involved in, turn out to be a better therapy than what she was receiving at the clinics. She is at last out of the clutches of men who are trying to control and exploit her, but the question is for how long will this last.

Catherine Deneuve is a real gem in this demanding role. She won the best actress prize at the 1998 Venice Film Festival, for a part she plays with a proper dignity and restraint. She's the focus of a film that is tailor-made for her star presence.

Garcia has created an edgy psychological thriller, one that is steeped in old-fashioned storytelling that is mixed in with some modern nuances -- such as a darkly lit display of camerawork. Its most glaring fault was that the plotline waned by the finale and the twists offered little payoff. The mystery fizzled out by the time it arrived in the Ostend dunes with a fragile but refurbished Marianne and the loyal Jean-Pierre chasing after her to offer his only winsome trait. But as a character study, this one is a jewel.

REVIEWED ON 8/10/2002     GRADE: B +

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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