“How old are you?” asks Marco, the one-night stand who is, at most, half her age. “Your real age?” And then, as an even clumsier post-coital afterthought, he observes “you must have been stunning.”
She sure was. And is. And the answer to his question is 70. That’s what all the film reference books say about actress Catherine Deneuve. That’s what Bob Simon affirmed in his fawning and none-too-revealing portrait of Deneuve on “CBS Sunday Morning” last week.
Her face is still captivating by any assay. All through the generically and wretchedly titled road movie, “On My Way,” the camera of writer/director Emmanuelle Bercot fills the screen with Deneuve’s face.
If it were your movie, you probably would too. Believe me, neither the director nor her star is trying to convince you that she’s younger than she is. That’s why her clumsy lover-for-a-night so unchivalrously calls attention to the elephant in any room where Bercot’s film will be shown. There’s a mature woman’s puffiness to Deneuve’s face and no effort is made in this French film to fool you into thinking that her body is the sylphlike body of her 22-year-old self. These are Deneuve’s Simone Signoret years.
Leave it to the French to imply that youth worship, American style, is probably for fools.
But, as her grown daughter puts it bluntly to Deneuve in the film, “you’ll be beautiful in your coffin.”
What commands the film about Deneuve’s face in “On My Way,” though, is her ability as an actress. It’s all those wonderfully, delightfully revealing micro-expressions that pass across her face as an unhappy woman who leaves the restaurant she runs for a drive around the block and never comes back.
It’s Deneuve the great film actress that’s the most important thing about “On My Way” and makes it the charmer that it is. A major film it isn’t. But because it’s French (with English subtitles) it almost completely avoids the more egregious kinds of sentimentality that could have afflicted it in America.
It’s hugely likable all the way. And that’s because Deneuve the actress is. It’s not Deneuve the beauty that ravishes the screen, it’s Deneuve the actress fleetingly registering embarrassment, confusion, amusement, contempt and unexpected delight in everything she encounters on the road.
Most importantly, halfway through, that means her 11-year-old grandson, who’s a bit of a brat in her company. He steals a pair of sunglasses from a gas station and runs away from her when she forgets how sensitive kids can be and lets her impatience with him come out a bit too forcefully.
There’s very little to this movie really – an older woman with both romantic and business disappointments goes for a ride to clear her head and never comes back. She’s a serious smoker and keeps going farther afield to buy a pack of smokes. In a delightful scene, a very old guy on the road ever-so-slowly and painstakingly tries to roll her one.
The movie is full of little off-the-wall vignettes of that sort – the roadhouse dart contest where she chugs beers with the local “girls” and is picked up by the clumsy local Lothario, Marco. And the furniture store whose night watchman lets her sack out on a couch whose price has been marked down.
The big set pieces are the Miss France 1969 reunion for a calendar photo and the final meeting with her grandson’s paternal grandfather whom she’s never met. He’s a rural French pol about to be thrown out of office but invited into her surprisingly busy bed.
The writer/director has an obvious affection for French film beauties of an earlier era. Not only is Deneuve her star, but the most appealing and maternal of the 1969 contest winners is played by Mylene Demongeot, the onetime French sex symbol who also seems to have had a career renaissance in her 70s.
By the time you get to four generations of one family singing the same silly family favorite, you’re perfectly content that “On My Way” saw absolutely no need to be anything other than the supremely likable thing that it is.
ON MY WAY
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Nemo Schiffman, Mylene Demongeot
Director: Emmanuelle Bercot
Running time: 113 minutes
Rating: Unrated, but PG-13 equivalent for well-draped sex and some language.
The Lowdown: A troubled, mature woman goes on the road and reunites with her estranged daughter and grandson. In French with subtitles.