An intense and intensely intelligent film in the film-noir mold, Place Vendome is a work so multi-layered in its meanings and so complex in its story structure that it is just as apt to alienate its audience as it is to fascinate them. It isn’t that the plot itself is terribly complex — with his posh jewelry business bankrupt and the shadow of scandal hanging over the once honorable firm, Vincent Malivert (Bernard Fresson) plows his car into a logging truck, leaving his alcoholic wife, Marianne (Catherine Deneuve), to dispose of some (not strictly legal) diamonds that only she is supposed to know about. That much is simple. And it isn’t particularly difficult to sort out who’s after the diamonds and why. But the film refuses to spoon-feed the viewer. All the information is there, but it is left to the viewer to interpret it and dig for the film’s meanings and suggested meanings. Actually, the core of the film isn’t the plot itself, but the regeneration of Deneuve’s character as she progresses from an unfocused alcoholic disgracing herself in the corner at a society function (by draining all the unfinished drinks she can find) to a woman of strength and purpose as she regains control of her life in her efforts to dispose of the diamonds. It is a daring and brilliant performance by a consummate actress who’s also a full-fledged movie star by anyone’s standards. Just as daring is the fact that director-co-writer Nicole Garcia has created a star — not a character — role for a 57-year-old actress and allowed her to retain her sexuality and appeal. That Deneuve’s appeal is virtually timeless is, in fact, part of the film’s thrust. Early in the film Deneuve’s character is given what is presumed to be a picture of her and her late husband on holiday, but it turns out not to be her at all. Instead, it is Nathalie (Emmanuelle Seigner, The Ninth Gate), an up-and-coming dealer in the firm. As the plot unfolds, Nathalie — in a Vertigo-like twist — comes more and more to be seen as not only Marianne’s husband’s re-creation of his wife in a younger form, but also a re-creation of Marianne by Battistelli (Jacques Dutronc), a jewel thief, who betrayed Marianne 20 years previously and set her on the path to her loveless marriage and alcoholism. Battistelli goes so far as to insist that Nathalie wear her hair in the same manner as Marianne. By the time the viewer learns how Battistelli once let Marianne take the fall in a jewelry scam gone wrong, it comes as no surprise — and seems precisely right — to find Seigner playing the role of the young Marianne in flashback. Similarly, it comes as no surprise that Battistelli seems to be setting Nathalie up for exactly the same fate as Marianne. The operative difference is that Nathalie is fully aware of her intended fate, perversely accepts it, seemingly wants it and even berates Jean-Pierre (Jean-Pierre Bacri) — yet another man involved with both woman — for saving her from that possibility. As Marianne herself had asked Jean-Pierre earlier in the film, does love have to include betrayal? As with many things in Place Vendome, this remains a question that can only be answered by the viewer. The film itself offers no slick answers or pat solutions, but at the same time neither does it wallow in pseudo-existentialist angst. Instead, it opts to be a work about the possibilities of redemption for all of its characters, regardless of their betrayals, evasions, crimes — and even in spite of their ages. But it wisely leaves such redemptions as just that — possibilities. In this regard, Place Vendome is a remarkable film housing several equally remarkable performances, along with Deneuve’s unqualified triumphant one in the lead.
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