PLACE VENDÔME


          In Paris, the famed Place Vendôme is home to such prestigious establishments as the
  Ritz Hotel, Chanel and several major jewelry houses (e.g., Cartier, Van Cleef and Arpels).
  Writer-director Nicole Garcia uses this very chic area as the backdrop for a convoluted and
  somewhat confusing psychological thriller named after this prime piece of real estate.

          Vincent Malivert (Bernard Fresson) and his brother are proprietors of a prestigious
  jewelry salon with clients from around the world. His wife Marianne (Catherine Deneuve) is a
  recovering alcoholic prone to hiding out in rest homes. In the film's early scenes (which are
  murkily shot and dimly lit), Vincent is participating in some questionable dealings regarding
  some diamonds. While on a business trip in London, he is accused by De Beers employees
  of stealing from them. Shortly after his return to France, he shows Marianne five beautifully
  cut diamonds that he stores in the safe at her apartment. Within days, he has committed
  suicide and his death triggers a hunt for the gems.

          Marianne, a former gem broker, decides to return to the game and sell the five stones.
  She seeks out Nathalie (Emmanuelle Seigner), a young woman who reminds her of herself
  as a young woman. That Nathalie may have been Vincent's mistress is also a factor in
  Marianne's fascination with Nathalie. The younger woman, however, is more cautious, partly
  as she is in the throes of a romantic crisis of her own. Her former lover, the mysterious
  Jean-Pierre (Jean-Pierre Bacri), follows her while her newfound beau, the equally enigmatic
  Battistelli (Jacques Dutronc), has unexpected ties to Marianne.

          As Marianne attempts to sell the five diamonds, she unwittingly becomes embroiled in a
  series of events that are beyond her control. Unbeknownst to her, the gems are being sought
  by several parties, including her brother-in-law, men from De Beers and the Russian Mafia.
  Audience members have to pay close attention to the action in order to figure out who's who
  and who wants what. Jean-Pierre begins a relationship with Marianne and she in turn seeks
  out Nathalie for assistance in contacting Battistelli. There are double and triple crosses and
  the plot assumes more intricacies than it seems to be able to bear.

          What makes the film interesting on any level is the magnificent central performance of
  Catherine Deneuve. In the last decade, she has moved beyond her photogenic beauty
  (although she remains a sensuous screen presence) and developed into a performer of
  surprising depth and ability. Her portrayal of Marianne takes risks and she is more than up
  to the challenges, whether wallowing in self-pity and drink or flashing a feisty side to her
  personality. Deneuve dispenses with her trademarked aloof screen persona, she allows the
  audience to see Marianne at her most vulnerable and it more than suits the actress.

          The star is ably supported by the principal cast, with Dutronc (who co-starred with
  Deneuve in Claude Lelouch's
A nous deux) providing the right amount of mystery as the
  nefarious Battistelli. Bacri makes a nice romantic foil for Deneuve and Seigner proves
  competent as Nathalie. (Garcia's only misstep is having Seigner play the youthful version
  of Marianne in a flashback - it's meant to reinforce the link between the two women, but it is
  a distraction.)

          As a thriller,
PLACE VENDÔME doesn't really possess the thrills of other caper films
  but as a psychological portrait of a woman coming to terms with her past, it excels.


                                                    Rating:               B-
© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.