Category Archives: Catherine Deneuve

Love Songs (1984)

“I wish they’d leave it to me.  I would fill the world with joy.  A safer place for girls and boys.”

I rented Love Songs (AKA Paroles et Musique) a 1984 film from director Elie Chouraqui based on the fact that it featured Catherine Deneuve. One of the leading lights of French cinema, Deneuve’s films tend to be decent productions–although the netflix viewer rating of two stars didn’t give me much optimism.

The film begins with Peter (Nick Mancuso), Margaux’s (Catherine Deneuve) wanker of an American husband. He’s packing and then leaves an empty house showing the odd visible facial expression indicating the twinge of regret. At this point, I thought he was being chucked out–especially since the film soon reveals that ‘workaholic’ Margaux is slaving away supporting Peter PLUS their two children (a very young Charlotte Gainsbourg is in the role as the troubled daughter). Peter, it turns out, is trying to finish his great novel, and for some unspecified reason, decides to leave his wife and kids, and return to America. Margaux gets the news bluntly delivered via a taped message. Charming.

But Margaux hardly misses a beat, and apart from a moment of angst as she listens to the message from her dearly departed husband, she leaps right back into the swim of things, and perhaps this is where the ‘workaholic’ accusation fits in. In her capacity as a talent agent, Margaux crosses paths with singing duo Jeremy (Christopher Lambert) and Michel (Richard Anconina). The two work as waiters and double as a café’s entertainment. But bear in mind that I use the term ‘entertainment’ loosely.

What follows is a lackluster love affair between Margaux and Jeremy. The affair draws Jeremy away from his close friendship with Michel. And when fame calls, well Jeremy has his obsession with Margaux to deal with. And Margaux’s heart apparently still belongs to her wanker husband.

Love Songs could have been a much better film. There are hints, for example, that Margaux is not just the workaholic her husband accuses her of being. This may be one of his excuses for leaving her, but then again since she is the sole support for the family, it’s difficult to take Peter’s accusation seriously. But what’s even more intriguing is the subtle, unexplored idea that Margaux prefers or even encourages her men to be dependent. At one point, for example, Jeremy begs for a night off from Margaux’s bed as he has an early audition the next day. Margaux, who is in the BIZ and should therefore be the one person on the planet who understands the delicacy of auditions, throws a little power-play fit and Jeremy gives in to her demands. This sets off a chain of events with severe ramifications in Jeremy’s relationship with Michel.

But the film doesn’t explore the subtler aspects of the relationships between Margaux and Jeremy, Margaux and Peter, Jeremy and Michel. Instead everything is clumsily done, perfunctory and we are ‘told’ specifics (Margaux is a workaholic, for example), and the plot’s subtler implications are left unexplored. The big passionate affair between Margaux and Jeremy is supposedly wild enough for him to take leave of his senses–temporarily at least, but somehow it’s just not convincing. Similarly Margaux’s relationship with Peter fails to convince. Here’s this man who gets on a plane and flies off leaving his wife in the lurch. Where is her anger? The dulled emotional response of these characters in the film (which after all is supposed to be a love story) left me wondering if the main characters have been lobotomized

And this brings me to the most painful part of the film: its music. Perhaps one of the reasons that the great love affair isn’t convincing is the terrible music churned out with nauseating regularity by Jeremy and Michel. Unfortunately since they insist in signing in English, the sickeningly sweet music is made vomit worthy by the truly atrocious lyrics. There’s a sample at the top of the page.” Again the film fails to convince me that these two crooners could possibly hold the attention of an adoring audience–let alone reach superstar status. In one scene, the crowd is screaming for more, and this just defies credibility. There are moments when the duo approach yet another mircophone, and I steeled myself, muttering, “bloody hell, not again!” But I suspect we were supposed to look forward to the musical moments and not fast forward them (as I did for sanity’s sake). On the whole, this is one of the worst French films I’ve ever seen. I think the netflix raters were too generous.

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Hotel des Ameriques (1981)

Catherine Deneuve is always worth watching, and she’s certainly the best thing in Andre Techine’s 1981 film Hotel des Ameriques.

Helene (Catherine Deneuve) is a stressed-out anesthesiologist when she (literally) runs into Gilles Tisserand (Patrick Dewaere) one evening. Exhausted, but still driving, she almost flattens Gilles, and then guilty and lonely, she strikes up a relationship.

Gilles is the loser son of a local hotelier, and he lives in the hotel, occupying a room while his sister and mother run the place. He does very little except hang out with his social reject friend, Bernard (Etienne Chicot). Meeting Helene, who’s emotionally fragile following the death of her architect fiancé, should prove to be the lucky break that Gilles has been waiting for, but instead, he flounders in this relationship just as he flounders in life.

While the acting is excellent, somehow the film misses being anything other than mildly interesting. Perhaps the most difficult leap for me was trying to understand why Helene was with Gilles in the first place–let alone why on earth she put up with all his crap. As in other Techine films, the characters are emotionally disconnected, but in this film, somehow this emtoional detachment transfers to the viewer too. While I was mildly interested in the plot, there wasn’t too much here to get excited about. And the film didn’t seem to adequately address exactly why Helene is with Gilles or why Gilles begins to turn on Helene.

This film was recently released on a Catherine Deneuve set, and also on a Techine set. I’ve seen some Techine films I’ve loved, and others that were mediocre. Add this one to the latter stack, but as a Deneuve fan, I had to see it. The film is set in Biarritz, by the way, so there’s some gorgeous scenery, but for the most part I waited for something that didn’t happen, and the film fizzled out at its ending.

In French with subtitles.

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The Scene of the Crime (1986)

Nothing ignites in this dull drama

As a fan of Catherine Deneuve, I finally got my hands on a copy of The Scene of the Crime, a film by Andre Techine. Techine films are hit-and-miss for me, but since the film includes Deneuve, I had high hopes.

The Scene of the Crime (Le Lieu de Crime, La Mauvaise Herbe) is told through the eyes of a thirteen year old boy, Thomas (Nicolas Gerardi) who’s off picking flowers in the countryside near his grandparents’ home, when Martin, an escaped convict (Wadeck Stanczak) grabs the boy and demands he return later with money. Thomas does manage to wheedle money from his grandfather, and his efforts to get that money reveal that this is a troubled boy who’s prone to storytelling, exaggeration and flat out lying. But Thomas is the product of a broken home–a father who doesn’t have much time for him, and a mother whose need for independence and self-expression led to the creation of a small nightclub–much to the dismay of her disapproving ex-spouse, parents and religious leaders.

Thomas returns to the escaped convict only to fall foul of another more violent escapee. Martin should take the hint and leave, but instead, he spies the gorgeous Lili Ravenel (Catherine Deneuve) and decides to stick around….

The Scene of the Crime fails on several levels. This ultimately unsatisfying film tries to depict Lili as a character who’s stifled by her life in the small town, and who falls so hard for the mysterious, passionate stranger (Martin) that she throws caution (let alone common sense and reason) to the winds. Somehow Lili’s actions don’t make sense, and Lili and Martin just don’t make a credible pair of lovers. Nothing against Martin. Lili’s husband also seems way off her circuit too. But perhaps that’s the problem; Lili just doesn’t seem to ‘fit’ anywhere–with her husband, child or lover. No wonder she wants to run away….
In French with subtitles.

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Mississippi Mermaid (1969)

Mississippi Mermaid is an early Francois Truffaut film, and if it looks familiar–it may be that you’ve seen Original Sin–the Angelina Jolie/Antonio Banderas remake of the film.

Louis Mahe (Jean-Paul Belmondo) plays a wealthy factory owner who lives on the small island, Reunion, near Africa. At the beginning of the film, Louis is eagerly expecting the arrival of his mail-order bride. Photo in hand, he impatiently waits for her to arrive, and when he is confronted with Julie Roussel (Catherine Deneuve) who is NOT the woman in the photo, he happily swallows the story that she sent him a photo of someone else–after all, they both engaged in minor deceits during their courtship by mail, so he overlooks the warning signals and marries her anyway.

Soon, Louis becomes suspicious about his new bride’s real identity, but he continues to elect acceptance. However, when he receives a letter from Julie’s sister demanding to know why she hasn’t heard from Julie, he is forced to confront Julie. Julie promptly cleans out the joint bank account and disappears….

I have never been a fan of Jean-Paul Belmondo’s. However, in this film, his facial expressions were extremely impressive, and I began to see that perhaps I overlooked him in the past. Catherine Deneuve plays a chilling Julie Roussel/Marion Vergano. At the beginning of the film, Deneuve plays the demure Julie, but when the persona of Julie is dumped, and Deneuve assumes the identity of Marion, an ice queen emerges. Whereas Angelina played the Julie/Marion role with sizzling passion, Deneuve is icy, controlling and evil. However, this is the precise reason that it was difficult to understand why Mahe continued to adore Julie/Marion. The partnership from hell theory just doesn’t hold for the on-screen relationship between Mahe and Marion–there wasn’t enough sexual chemistry to explain it. And perhaps it can’t be helped given the age of the film, but Denueve did manage two topless scenes–one of which almost causes a car accident.

The film is dated. The airplane travel scenes are tedious. When it is time for action, the camera just speeds up, and the effect is preposterous. However, Mississippi Mermaid is well worth a look if you are a fan of either French Cinema or Catherine Deneuve.

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Changing Times (2004)

“You can’t possess someone without hurting him or her.”

Thirty-one years ago, Cecile (Catherine Deneuve) and Antoine (Gerard Depardieu) were madly in love and swore that they would spend the rest of their lives together. But things didn’t work out, and Cecile and Antoine went their separate ways. Now, they are both in their 50s, and Antoine is ready to claim Cecile back.

Antoine is an extremely successful, wealthy man, and he’s arranged a job near Cecile supervising the construction of a broadcasting station in Tangiers. Meanwhile Cecile, a radio announcer, is unaware that she’s the object of Antoine’s schemes. While Antoine has remained a bachelor, Cecile’s life is messy, and she’s on her second, troubled marriage. Her younger unfaithful husband, physician Natan (Gilbert Melki) drinks too much and resents the fact that Cecile refuses to move to his home country, Morocco, where a much better paying job awaits him. To complicate matters, Cecile’s son, Sami (Malik Zedi) and his drug-addicted Moroccan girlfriend, Nadia (Lubna Azabal) have just arrived from Paris.

Director Andre Techine explores the bittersweet fallout of the big reunion between Antoine and Cecile. For the first few moments of Changing Times, the plot seems to be gearing up for an epic romance (Indochine), but the film veers away from that towards a soapy drama, and then settles in reality. Antoine’s been planning his big moment–the first time Cecile sets eyes on him again–with great care–even taping fancy speeches into a cassette player in his efforts to make that moment perfect. The reality of their first moments together are humiliating and embarrassing for Antoine, and it’s soon clear that while he’s harboured and fueled this passion, Cecile can barely remember him. Meanwhile Antoine seems oblivious of the fact that Cecile is a person in her own right–a person with problems and objectives, and not just some fantasy figure he’s stored in his head.

Techine’s film is more concerned with the sort of realities that life is constructed of–disappointments, and the day-to-day struggles within a marriage vs. the imagined thrill of an unrequited romance. As Cecile frankly tells Antoine, it’s easier to carry an image around of someone in your head for thirty years than it is to actually live with that person day in and day out. Reality batters romance, and it always will.

One of the film’s sub-plots involves Sami’s relationship with another man, Bilal (Nadem Rachati). And there’s another sub-plot with Nadia’s twin sister that proved to be distracting. As with most of Techine’s films, the plot is interesting, but the characters remain bloodless and unsympathetic. Obviously the audience is supposed to be impressed with this on-screen coupling of two of the biggest names in French cinema, and while this is a decent role for Deneuve, Depardieu’s role is less-than-centered. For animal lovers, there are two scenes that may prove offensive to some viewers–the slaughter of a sheep and also the decapitation of a chicken. In French with English subtitles.

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