In a small town in Brittany, 60-something former beauty queen Bettie (Catherine Deneuve) runs her parents' restaurant, living with and working with mother Annie (Claude Gensac). She's been avoiding a 60's Miss France calendar shoot reunion, but when her mother tells her her married lover has left his wife for a younger woman, Bettie takes a drive to have a cigarette and is "On My Way."
Catherine Deneuve takes up smoking again and on the hunt for a pack of cigarettes has a far ranging adventure that takes her to some very surprising yet never contrived encounters. This offbeat gem of a road trip film from cowriter (with Jérôme Tonnerre, "Renoir")/director Emmanuelle Bercot ("Backstage") is a love letter to France's reigning queen of cinema and a more satisfying experience than Spain's more highly touted "Gloria."
There's something lovely about how Bercot establishes Bettie's town with static shots of all its private businesses - a central cafe, a corner cinema, a photographer's - all lonely in the predawn light. We see Bettie in her over-the-restaurant bedroom, clearly the same room she occupied as a child, the perfect tip off that she hasn't ever really moved on. She resents her mother's controlling nature and when Annie brings up Bettie's own daughter, the sore spot causes the battle royale that sends Bettie for her cigarettes. But when she's driven out onto a rural road, she discovers her pack is empty and so her trip begins to reach into further territory.
One always believes Bettie will eventually end up at the beauty queen reunion, but how the filmmaker's get her there is unique nor is it the end of her road. She asks an old man smoking on the street if he has another and is told its his last, but invites her in where he attempts to make her a home rolled with arthritic hands which no longer do his bidding. As Bettie impatiently waits, she learns about the stranger and the scene is mesmerizing, funny and poignant. Some kids in the town square inform her that little is open but there's a bar that's open one Sunday each month 30 miles further down the road. Bettie goes further still, in more ways than one, her ego getting both boosted and battered. When she calls her waitress Jeanne (Hafsia Herzi, "The Secret of the Grain") the next day to get a message to her mother she learns the police have been called and there was an urgent message from her estranged daughter Muriel (singer Camille). The angry young woman has a shot at a job, but needs to get her son, Charly (Bercot and DP Schiffman's son, Nemo) to her absentee husband's dad - can grandmom help? Bettie's dwindling resources (she's out of cash and her card is refused at a roadway stop) cause Charly to regard her with suspicion, but she's got an ace up her sleeve still.
The production has an unusual, neutral palette of pastels from the stone buildings to Bettie's wardrobe and sandstone Mercedes sedan. Lenser Schiffman creates an almost surreal image of Bettie driving from Charly's POV where she seems the empress of her own bubble. Deneuve navigates her encounters with a mostly unprofessional cast with a delightful, hesitant yet open girlishness (it's charming to see her overcome with hilarity, not once, but three times). Gensac, Deneuve and Camille create a doubled mother-daughter dynamic where history both repeats and deviates. Other notables in the cast are Gérard Garouste(a non-acting friend of Deneuve's) as Alain, Charly's grouchy, elegant grandfather and Séréphin Ngakoutou Beninga as a kindly security guard.
There are a couple of missteps. An early song selection, Rufus Wainwright's 'This Love Affair,' is both obvious and jarring and the film's ending trails off a bit. But Bercot pulls off an unconventional reunion of a group facing various failures with light-hearted hope, enough to make Deneuve dissolve into her last fit of giggles.
Robin also gives "On MyWay" a B.
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