1998, NR, 117 min. Directed by Nicole Garcia. Starring Francois Berleand, Bernard Fresson, Jacques Dutronc, Jean-Pierre Bacri, Emmanuelle Seigner, Catherine Deneuve.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 2, 2001
If you're looking for Parisian bijoux, head to Place Vendôme. The historic square, with its 18th-century architecture and carefully designed facades, is the heart of the city's haute couture jewelry district. Window fronts of expensive gems line the square like a strand of jewels, and Garcia's movie is modeled in a similar pattern. Place Vendôme uses the gems as devices that unite a disparate blend of characters, all of whom are connected in some way to a set of stolen stones. Jewel merchants, gem cutters, the De Beers diamond cartel, international black marketeers, old lovers, new lovers, suicides, drunks, and family intrigues: All are simultaneously in play during the course of Place Vendôme and the revelations of their inter-relationships are only gradually exposed. This is not because Place Vendôme is constructed as a thriller or suspense story that slowly teases information from its scenario, but rather because we experience the story through the eyes of Marianne Malivert (Deneuve), a widow whose booze-soaked peepers are seeing things with sobriety for the first time in a very long while. Marianne was married to the proprietor of one of Place Vendôme's prestigious jewelry establishments. Back in the day, before their marriage, Marianne was a gem broker, but she has spent the last number of years in a drunken haze, residing predominantly in a rest clinic. Although she's still a beauty, her looks have become puffy and blasé, and her husband still trots her out of the clinic on occasion to accompany him to business dinners and such. On one such night, he discloses to her a few magnificent diamonds he keeps hidden in a home safe. He then goes out and drives his car into an oncoming truck. It seems that his business has been in dire straits for quite some time, although Marianne has been unable to see this because of her dulled alcoholic state. What ensues is a fascinating story of a middle-aged woman starting over -- a story made all the more fascinating because of the marvelous Catherine Deneuve, who brings all her remarkable skills to bear on bringing this newly awakened character to life. Recalling her earlier business ability, Marianne slowly rises to the occasion. It may be true that every tragedy has a silver lining. But is the situation in blurred focus because of Marianne's drinking (or non-drinking) or because there is a complicated set of external factors at work? Place Vendôme spends almost as much time sorting through the intrigue surrounding the gems as it does focusing on Marianne's predicament, and these two halves are not equally successful. We learn much more about the gem trade than we might ever have imagined, and spend time with other characters who provide the movie with narrative parallels and forward momentum. Yet, there's no getting around the fact that the blossoming of Marianne is what gives Place Vendôme its emotional center and visual fascination. Garcia brings little stylistic panache to the proceedings and for all its narrative complications, what we remain most interested in seeing is Marianne's evolution. When Deneuve is not onscreen, the film is never denuff.