Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Catherine Deneuve: from Indochine to Place Vendome

How good to see Catherine Deneuve still very busy filming with several items lined up after 50 years in cinema. Like Cate Blanchett (post below), she would be on my list of 10 important actresses working today. I remember as a teenager seeing those arthouse posters for her early films like VICE AND VIRTUE and SATAN LEADS THE DANCE. Then of course the hit of UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG followed by Polanski's REPULSION, and Demy's LES DEMOISELLES DE ROCHEFORT - with her late sister Francoise Dorleac, whom I like as well - see reviews at French, Demy, Denueve, Dorleac labels, plus those hits with Bunuel: BELLE DE JOUR and TRISTANA, and Truffaut's LE SIRENE DE MISSISSIPPI which suited her cool personality perfectly. 
Some indifferent international films followed where she was often just a beautiful blank: THE APRIL FOOLS, HUSTLE, LE CHAMADE, BENJAMIN, MAYERLING etc. Then of course that great renaissance in the 80s and 90s and beyond - as she did lots of varied films like THE HUNGER and Von Triers' DANCER IN THE DARK with Bjork, and several with director Andre Techine. I loved her recent one POTICHE with Ozon, where she is hilarious out jogging and communicating with nature before taking over her ailing husband's role at the factory, and she is fun too in his 8 FEMMES. I now have a clutch of later Deneuves to get through, so lets start with INDOCHINE ...

INDOCHINE. This was a free dvd in one of our newspapers a few years ago, but I never bothered watching it till now. I like it a lot, it plays like a French GONE WITH THE WIND or a David Lean film with those crowd scenes and sampans sailing on marvellous landscapes .... as directed in 1992 by Regis Wargnier.
Indochina during the 1930s: One of the largest rubber-tree plantations is owned by French colonist Eliane who lives with her father and her native adopted daughter Camille (Linh Dan Pham). Elaine gets to know young French officer Jean-Baptiste (Vincent Perez); after a short affair she refuses to see him again, as Camille falls deeply in love with him. Elaine gets him transferred to a far island where Camille goes in search of him, despite an arranged marriage. Her saga is rivetting and engrossing, as the fates of the three leads play out, rather like a parable of France's place in Indochina and Vietnam. It looks marvellous - Deneuve is perfect in those 30s clothes, and striding around her plantation in jodhpurs. Colonial life is nicely depicted showing also the brutality meted out to the peasants (like that family Camille travels with to that island).
It is a vast, panoramic love story set in the twilight years of French Indo-China. Comparisons with David Lean are inevitable, considering director RĂ©gis Wargnier's use of the setting as a backdrop to the love-triangle between the three main characters. Catherine Deneuve gives a strong, emotionally restrained performance as Eliane, the plantation owner whose colonial paradise is slowly falling apart. Linh Dan Pham is affecting as Camille, Eliane's adopted daughter whose journey from aristocratic ancestry to Marxist induction personifies the changing face of South-East Asia in the period around World War Two. It won the Oscar for best Foreign Film of 1992, and Deneuve was nominated as Leading Actress. 

PLACE VENDOME. A 1998 French thriller with a great role for Denueve. She plays the mainly alcoholic widow of a diamond dealer who has commited suicide after a shady business deal; she finds his secret stash of 7 perfect diamonds and decides to sell them herself as she re-enters the diamond business world of Place Vendome. Nicole Garcia’s thriller is nicely paced, does not rush anything and showcases Deneuve with a great ‘look’ here, as the world-weary woman slowly putting herself back together. Jacques Dutronc and Emmanuelle Seigner co-star, and English Julian Fellows (now creator of DOWNTON ABBEY) and Larry Lamb are in there too. It’s a stylish, moody piece of Gallic chic and thrills.

THE LAST METRO. I finally saw Truffaut's big hit from 1980 yesterday, despite having the dvd for years. and to my surprise I really did not like it at all.
Paris, 1942. Lucas Steiner is a Jew and was compelled to leave the country. His wife Marion, an actress, directs the theater for him. She tries to keep the theater alive with a new play, and hires actor Bernard Granger for the leading role. But Lucas is actually hiding in the basement...
It comes across as a banal bloodless story, with no tension or suspense about the German occupation of Paris (its a world away from Melville), there is even no tension about the husband hiding in the cellar - where they cook and have the run of the theatre at night. Its a good role for Deneuve in those '40s fashions, but Depardieu was rather a blank, there is no great passion between them either, and the ending is nothing special.  Perhaps its a valentine to the theatre, like his DAY FOR NIGHT was to movies. and as for the title  - the last train at night before the curfew - it has no bearing on the film at all ! Very pedestrian Truffaut then ...

GOD LOVES CAVIAR – a Greek curiosity from 2012 which I just had to see, as it features a sedate  Denueve as Catherine the Great of Russia! Shrewd casting. It is based on the true story of Greek pirate turned businessman Ioannis Varvakis, who made his fortune selling caviar in Russia and all over the world. This epic tale moves from Greece to the court of Catherine the Great in Russia and the shores of the Caspian Sea, and to the civil war in Greece and the fight for independence, during the Revolution of 1821 against the Ottoman Empire. It looks good as directed by Yannis Smaragdis. It reminded me of that 1959 Warner costumer JOHN PAUL JONES with that other adventurer at the court of the great Catherine (Bette Davis for the last 5 minutes).

THE HUNGER. It was nice to have another look at Tony Scott's THE HUNGER too, that popular vampire flick from 1983, capturing that early 80s look nicely. That terrific opening scene at the nightclub looks like the old Heaven club in London, as our vampires prey on urban clubbers and pick up another couple, while Bauhaus intone "Bela Lugosi's dead" on the soundtrack ..... David Bowie and Deneuve are perfect casting - Bowie though is ageing rapidly and will have to be placed with the ageless Miriam's past lovers locked away in their caskets - I liked that quick flashback to Ancient Egypt with Miriam in full vampire mode. Then there is that great scene with Susan Sarandon who asks the piano-playing Miriam if she is making a pass at her to which Miriam cooly replies "Not that I am aware of, Sarah" .... love that final shot too of the new ageless vamire looking out over her new domain ... its a glossy exercise in style of course, but it certainly satisfies the eye. Deneuve's vampire is the equal of Delphine Seyrig's countess in DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS (Horror label). Sarandon was amusing in that THE CELLULOID CLOSET documentary, noting that her character had to be drunk to allow herself to be seduced by Catherine Deneuve, one of the great beauties of the movies!  Below: back to REPULSION, 1965, and ROCHEFORT, 1967.
A clutch more Deneuve movies before too long: 3 by Andre Techine: THIEVES (LES VOLEURS), MY FAVOURITE SEASON and HOTEL AMERICA, as well as APRES LUI by Gael Morel (the lead in Techine's WILD REEDS - gay interest label) in 2007, LOVE SONGS (PAROLES ET MUSIQUE) from 1984, and Raul Ruiz's 1999 TIME REGAINED. Her book "Close Up and Personal" is an interesting collection of her diaries on various locations. Deneuve is still in her 60s but turns 70 later this month; we have grown up with her in the movies, unlike her sister Francoise whose career sadly barely last 5 years, but has left a lasting legacy too; they continue to fascinate like those other French legends Anouk Aimee, Adjani, Audran, Moreau ...

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