French actress Catherine Deneuve is known as one of the original femmes fatales. At 70, she’s still inhabiting that role in her new film “On My Way,” which opened March 14.But Deneuve's outright sex appeal of former years gives way to a more subtle allure in this charming comedy directed by Emmanuelle Bercot.
Deneuve plays a former beauty queen, Bettie, now in her 60s, neglected by her lover and left to handle the looming financial problems of her family’s restaurant. One afternoon she escapes work in search of cigarettes and finds herself on a road trip. Her journey progresses from an intoxicated one-night stand with a younger man, to an ex-Miss France reunion she never wanted to attend, to reviving a relationship with her alienated daughter and troublesome, yet honest, grandson.
“She doesn’t know what she’s going to do, you know. First she just stops, gives up, goes, and maybe she thinks that she’s getting away, but she never thinks that she would be going away for more than a few hours,” Deneuve said at a roundtable interview on March 6. “She’s just driving, she’s fed up all of a sudden, but she’s going to discover that it’s possible not to give a time when you’re going to come back home. Not knowing where you’re going to go, it’s sort of a freedom.”
Bercot does not present her film as a love story. Though it is romantic, the romance is found in the art of the film itself. Bercot gives us classic rambling French music—not too peppy, but without a trace of melancholy. The camera follows the characters without sacrificing a glimpse of French countryside.
“She prepared the film very, very well, and actually you have that little road movie, but all the places we go to are very, very beautiful and very true—you know it’s not something just to show a beautiful paysage,” Deneuve said of Bercot and the film. “It’s a part of the film, you know, it’s where she’s going. It’s not just to show something beautiful.”
Bercot’s realism lends itself to her use of nonactors as well as professionals. She presents her audience with the lesser-known countryside of France, as well as the real people who live there, many of whom make appearances in the movie despite no prior acting experience.
For Deneuve, working with nonprofessional actors was, at times, a challenge.
“It’s more complicated because at the beginning you think that they are going to bring what they have, but then you don’t realize that they are not going to be able to do something twice, or redo exactly the same thing because they have to learn the lines,” she said. “They didn’t ad lib.”
Despite the minor logistical complications, Bercot’s investment in working with nonprofessional actors lends an honest, comedic aspect to the film. The funny moments are real, and Deneuve manages to blend in with the rest of the cast.