Friday September 8, 2000
"Place Vendo^me" takes its title from one of the most elegant public squares in the world. In the heart of Paris, it is framed by superb 18th century buildings, many of them housing ultra-luxe jewelry stores. One of the most prestigious is Malivert et Cie., but it's quietly crumbling behind its ornate facade. Vincent Malivert (Bernard Fresson), its stocky, 60ish proprietor facing bankruptcy, has been humiliated by De Beers for having allowed a huge uncut diamond stolen from them to pass through his hands.
Actually it has stayed with him, secretly cut into several spectacular gems and secreted in his home. He shows the jewels to his alcoholic wife Marianne (Catherine Deneuve), just back from being dried out for the umpteenth time at an exclusive clinic. Already Marianne is slipping back to the bottle, but he sees no way out but to end his life.
This complex, sophisticated and increasingly suspenseful tale of love and betrayal, intrigue and redemption, is as elegant as its star and its settings. It is the third film as director (and in this instance, co-writer, with the veteran Jacques Fieschi) for the exquisite actress Nicole Garcia, and it's tailor-made for Deneuve, who has yet another demanding role as a woman convincingly emerging from an alcoholic haze to regain control of her life and destiny.
The fire and glow of those magnificent diamonds rekindle Marianne's spirit. No, she is not going to try to save the family firm, although she's not about to rubber-stamp its sale to a Bombay-based conglomerate, a deal engineered by her brother-in-law (Francois Berleand), who does not bother to hide his contempt for her drinking. But in going forward with her life Marianne finds herself confronting her past and her drinking, which had so impaired her from seeing her husband's desperate state.
As part of her plan of action she reaches out to Nathalie (Emmanuelle Seigner), one of Vincent's most ambitious staffers. Marianne sees herself in Nathalie and would like to save her from the mistakes she herself made. Indeed, the crucial man in Marianne's past, the shadowy and unscrupulous Battistelli (Jacques Dutronc), has taken the same role in Nathalie's life. The man Nathalie has just left, the dark, intense Jean-Pierre (Jean-Pierre Bacri), a disbarred lawyer turned repo man, has just started pursuing Marianne professionally--and, inevitably, romantically. Meanwhile, Russian Mafiosi want to get their hands on those diamonds in Marianne's possession.
Garcia manages to get all this plot to emerge from her well-drawn characters, to create a fatalistic atmosphere of romance and danger and to offer an adult reflection on the interplay of character and emotion in the conduct of relationships. "Place Vendo^me" is also an implicit comment on the need of women, in youth and maturity, to break free from men who would control and exploit them; but Garcia plays fair: A man may be as capable of self-sacrifice as a woman.
This is a rich, dense film, its bits and pieces gradually coming together with clarity and allowing the timelessly beautiful Deneuve the range and depth, subtleties and nuances, she demands of her roles and fulfills so glowingly; she won the best actress prize at the Venice Film Festival for her performance. Catherine Deneuve, quite simply, is an enduring glory of world cinema, never resting on her laurels or her looks, seeking always fresh challenges.
Place Vendo^me, 2000. Unrated. An Empire Pictures release of a co-production of Alhenia/Studio Canal Plus/Les Films Alain Sarde/Studio Images 3/TF1 Filma. Director Nicole Garcia. Executive producer Alain Sarde. Screenplay Garcia, Jacques Fieschi. Cinematographer Laurent Dailland. Music Richard Robbins II. Editors Luc Banner, Francoise Bonnot. Costumes Natalie Du Roscoat, Elisabeth Tavernier. Art director Thierry Flamand. In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes. Catherine Deneuve as Marianne Malivert. Jean-Pierre Bacri' as Jean-Pierre. Emmanuelle Seigner as Nathalie. Jacques Dutronc as Battistelli.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times