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On My Way (8/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 113 minutes.

OK for children.

I went to see Catherine Deneuve, one of the most beautiful actresses of her generation. What I got was a terrific road movie out of a story that one might think prospectively is going to be a chick flick designed to drive men away. But it’s far from that.

Billie (Deneuve) is an aging beauty queen who lives with her mother and owns a restaurant that is in financial trouble. In the first ten minutes she gets unceremoniously dumped by her longtime boyfriend and, despondent, impulsively hops in her car for a drive which changes her life.

Writer/director Emmanuelle Bercot combined two desires in one film. The first was to make a movie with Deneuve, who she says is “part of my growing up.” The second was to make a road movie.

But this is not your normal road movie because, due to a limited budget and shot on location in Brittany, Bercot shows very little scenery and hardly ever shows Billie behind the wheel. Even so, the character of the countryside shines through. “Le Ranch,” the seedy nightclub where Billie stops for a while, is the real thing.  “You can’t invent places like this,” says Bercot.

What she does show is a woman achieving her freedom as she encounters experiences she’d never meet had she stayed in her restaurant and with her mother as one day after another morphed into the next decade of sameness.

The film also deals with mother-daughter relationships, not only with Billie and her mother, but with Billie and her estranged daughter, Muriel (played by French singer Camille). Billie has allowed herself to become confined in a stifling life. By taking to the road she is unknowingly declaring her independence late in life.

Most French films are set in Paris or the Riviera. In this one Bercot wanted to tell the story of rural France, and that’s what Billie drives through. The people she meets are the people of rural France.

Most of the “actors” are just real people that Bercot and the crew met as they were filming. Even Marco (Paul Hamy), who picks Billie up in Le Ranch, never acted before, but you certainly can’t tell that from his performance.

This is also true of Nemo Schiffman, who plays Bettie’s grandson. Schiffman is Bercot’s son (with cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman), who came to the set just to meet Deneuve. Bercot decided to put him in the film in one short scene where he would hug her, but that grew into one of the most important parts in the movie.

Dealing with non-actors one might think that there would be a lot of improvisation, but that was not the case. The cast stuck pretty much with the script except for two scenes, one of Billie with an old man who rolls a cigarette for her, and another with a farmer Billie asks for directions. The one with the old man goes on for what I thought was too long until I discovered that Deneuve was asking him non-scripted questions and he was really answering about his real life. Knowing this, the scene is fascinating.

Even her son’s grandfather (Gérard Garouste) is acting for the first time. A friend of Deneuve’s, she asked him if he wanted to play the role. Giving a fine performance, Deneuve says he found it “amusing.”

Some Deneuve fans may find what look like little homages to Deneuve’s work for other revered French directors like François Dupeyron, François Truffaut, and André Téchiné. While Bercot acknowledges that they are there, she says that it wasn’t really intentional.

Deneuve gives a wonderful performance, appearing in just about every scene. But there’s much more to this film than merely seeing a ‘60s-era beauty as a still beautiful older woman.