A woman's impulsive midday drive turns into an extended, life-enhancing road trip in "On My Way." That the woman who finds herself in unfamiliar circumstances is played by Catherine Deneuve, a movie star who finds herself in the unusual situation of interacting mostly with nonactors, gives the comic drama an exhilarating kick.
Emmanuelle Bercot's agreeably ambling feature celebrates the inimitable Deneuve-ness of her leading lady, whose character, Bettie, appears in every scene. A widow in her 60s, she's reeling like a teenager from being jilted by her longtime (married) lover. She walks out of the family restaurant she manages, leaving her mother to deal with the bustling lunch service. She needs to clear her head and, more to the point, she needs a smoke — only to discover that a pack of cigarettes is something of a holy grail on the back roads of rural France.
Bercot and co-writer Jérôme Tonnerre are concerned with incident rather than structure, although the movie's second half takes a more conventional tack, putting Bettie on a defined mission with her tween grandson (Nemo Schiffman). Their scenes of sparring and bonding have an unforced charm.
But it's the loosely connected encounters of the early sequences that are remarkable in their poignancy and humor: an unlikely one-night stand; a laughing confessional with a security guard; a halting and especially indelible conversation with an elderly farmer. In the company of two groups of women — one in a rowdy roadhouse, the other at a gala reunion of beauty queens — former Miss Brittany Bettie reveals the guarded ease of someone who's readier to roll with the punches than even she suspected.
"On My Way"
MPAA rating: None, in French with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes
Playing: At the Landmark, West Los Angeles.