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[whitespace] 'Place Vendôme'
Belle de Millennium: After four decades, Catherine Deneuve continues to shine.

Diamond in the Rough

Catherine Deneuve sparkles in the otherwise dull thriller 'Place Vendôme'

By Nicole McEwan

FEW ACTRESSES possess the super-cool elegance of Catherine Deneuve. Grace Kelly in her prime, perhaps. Ingrid Bergman before Roberto Rossellini, certainly. Among the living only Julie Christie comes close. But even that still-luminous beauty can't compete when it comes down to the stamina and the sheer sense of adventure that seems to have guided France's queen of cinema during nearly four decades in front of the camera.

Her filmography reads like a laundry list of cutting-edge classics. She cracked up brilliantly in Polanski's Repulsion (1965), achieved cinematic immortality as a frigid housewife who turns to prostitution for release in Luis Buñuel's ground-breaking Belle de jour (1968) and got all-gothed up as a blood-lusting vampire queen in Tony Scott's The Hunger (1983).

Given this innate tilt toward the avant-garde, it's no surprise to learn that the Parisian movie goddess wrote Lars von Trier personally after viewing his Dogme 95 psycho-spectacle Breaking the Waves. In response, von Trier wrote a role in his current film, Dancer In the Dark, specifically for her.

With Dancer in the Dark having recently opened in theaters, Deneuve enthusiasts can get an unexpected double helping of the legendary actress because she is also starring in Place Vendôme, Nicole Garcia's semi-effective, semi-political thriller set amid the corrupt diamond markets of Europe.

In Place Vendôme, Deneuve plays Marianne, the wine-sodden wife of Jean-Pierre (Jean-Pierre Bacri), one of the many jewelers whose tony shops line the pedigreed environs of Paris' world-renowned Place Vendôme. This picturesque cluster of 18th-century storefronts masks a criminal underworld not likely to be depicted on a postcard or coffee mug. Beyond the square's elegantly appointed facades, dirty business deals are a way of life--one from which Jean-Pierre is about to depart.

Up to his neck in debt, the deeply depressed gem merchant launches his Mercedes into a logging truck. Soon a handful of diamonds of questionable provenance turns up, leaving his widow bogged down in international intrigue. Along for the ride are the Russian mafia, Marianne's former lover and a back-stabbing brother-in-law.

Presently, Marianne--whose alcoholism has led to an extended tour on the rehab clinic circuit--is forced to once again take charge of her own destiny. As the film unspools we slowly learn what forces provoked her initial decline; witness her rebirth and watch her make amends for past sins.

Suffice it to say, Deneuve is the film--which is part of the problem. When the picture debuted at the Venice Film Festival, the 56-year-old stunner took top acting honors. Sadly, the picture doesn't measure up. Garcia's drab vision takes a half-hearted stab at noir and as a result simply looks underlit. The film's slow pace is enervating--by the time suspense begins to build in the third act, one may feel too alienated to care.

Place Vendôme is a must see--if only to appreciate a rarity within the confines of an American theater. It is, in effect, a portrait (to borrow from Tom Wolfe) of a real woman in full.

Place Vendôme (Not rated; 117 min.) directed by Nicole Garcia, written by Jacques Fieschi and Nicole Garcia, photographed by Laurent Dailland, and starring Catherine Deneuve and Jean-Pierre Bacri, opens Friday at the Guild in Menlo Park and at the Camera 3 in San Jose.

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From the October 12-18, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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