Film Reviews: Ennui, thy name is Catherine Deneuve

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The Independent Culture
Place Vendome (15)

Nicole Garcia; 105 mins

Chance or Coincidence (PG)

Claude Lelouch; 120 mins

The Match (15)

Mick Davis; 96 mins

Goodbye Lover (15)

Roland Joffe; 117 mins

Doug's 1st Movie (U)

Son Myung-Hee; 77 mins

Nicole Garcia's Place Vendome tells the story of Marianne (Catherine Deneuve), the wife of Vincent, a wealthy jeweller (Bernard Fresson). Once a lapidary herself - though with Mafia connections that hastened the end of her career - Marianne is now an alcoholic, and quietly indignant. If she ever loved her husband, that love no longer stretches itself towards him. And Vincent is in trouble. His business partners suspect him of fencing diamonds; his debts are considerable. He chooses suicide, leaving Marianne to pick up the pieces, regenerate, confront the dangerous dealer Battistelli (Jacques Dutronc) and persuade Nathalie, his lover (Emmanuelle Seigner), away from a life of private deals and night drives to weary hotels.

Place Vendome speaks in a cultured whine but wears a hard face. Even if you are impressed by its old-school tone and modernist edge, its Cinemascope photography, its sombre, regular lines, its utter lack of anything hunted, you cannot be touched or energised by it. It is an exercise in neutrality. Deneuve is perfect for this - expensive, with wind-proof hair, brows like little scallops, a beautiful body held very tight, very private. She does something unusual with her mouth. She struggles with her lips and jaw as though always checking her dentures are in place. This aside, she is motionless, her mind elsewhere, only occasionally interesting to watch.

As a thriller, this film is fantastically insubstantial. Everyone seems so washed-out, so glueless, so vague, you do not care if they wind up in the clink. The immediacy might do them some good. This film is a melodrama without the melodrama, an lesson in isolation.

Claude Lelouch's Chance or Coincidence is equally vague but far messier. It stars Alessandra Martines, Lelouch's wife and a one-time ballerina with a fine face, soft and bony and boyish and brilliant. Martines plays Myriam, a former dancer whose lover and son are killed in a boating accident. She travels the world to her dead son's favourite scenes - polar bears in Hudson Bay, cliff-divers in Acapulco, whirling dervishes in Turkey - capturing them on a Handicam that ends up in the hands of a Quebecois futurologist (Marc Hollonge), who falls in love with her and determines to save her. There's also a jazz-dancing episode in New York, a sequence in Venice and flashbacks to Myriam's first husband, also a star dancer, pirouetting and committing adultery and looking mysterious and slim and foreign.

There's something very amateur, very gauche, about this film - Lelouch rushes from continent to continent like a child with an atlas, shouting, Look at the world! How big! Myriam's emotional journey is supposed to be as enormous as her physical one, but shock-blasted and still, she only comes to recognisable life in her dance sequences, and even they feel a little naff. Martines hasn't the intelligence, the ruin and exactitude of Juliette Binoche in Three Colours Blue. But then Lelouch hasn't Krzysztof Kieslowski's discipline, his absolute concern for the individual, either. He never quite works through the conundrum of the film's title, never finding its heart or his point.

The Match is a non-dimensional, boorish affair. There isn't a single explosion of creativity: no ambiguous nuances of manner or character. It's the kind of film that might have been screened on the television on a Sunday night, having made a cover of the Radio Times thanks to its terrific cast (Bill Paterson, Tom Sizemore, Ian Holm). You would tune in, then find yourself easily distracted by the Chinese takeaway. Later, you'd take a bath and feel cheated, and mean to mention it at work the next day, and then forget.

It's set in a village in the Scottish Highlands. Devotees of two rival bars fight it out on the football pitch under the guidance of Wully (Max Beesley), a traumatised milkman with his leg in a calliper. The illogicalities are wanton. With the exception of Beesley, nobody seems to have a job, and yet everybody can afford to drink good whisky all day long. Which decade is this? What is Sam Fox doing working behind the bar? How can a village that boasts only one car also house the sun-bed that Sam Fox clearly lives under for most of the year?

Roland Joffe, director of The Killing Fields and The Mission, has described his Goodbye Lover as a film gris - somewhere between a film noir and a comedy? Patricia Arquette plays Sandra, a church-going Beverly Hills estate agent and man-eater who is married to alcoholic Jake (Dermot Mulroney). She is having an affair with Ben, his businessman brother (Don Johnson), and the pair meet in Arquette's unsold houses, enthusiastically testing the sofas and kitchen units. Mulroney and Arquette are planning Johnson's murder - his life-insurance policy is massive - but the plot slowly (and I mean slowly) becomes twistier than both characters expected. Arquette was recently cast as a femme fatale in The Hi-Lo Country. She is an unlikely temptress - crisp in her littleness, her mouth rising too suddenly to her lovers, as though she were carrying out instructions. Her fringe is childish, she has no real gesture in her hips and her intonation is inert. The film is at best deliberately farcical.

Doug's 1st Movie is based on the rightly popular animated ABC television series. It stars a seven-year-old character called Doug Funnie - affable, innocent, sincere - and follows his crush on his schoolmate Patti Mayonnaise via an encounter with a friendly mutant recently emerged from the polluted Lucky Duck Lake. It's almost entirely without ironic sniping and the wild high kicks and scraps of most children's films. "Violence is the only answer for people who have run out of good ideas," Doug squeaks; he indulges in the odd "Oh Gawd!"

This film also spares us the ubiquitous Disney singalong, instead employing music that sounds like it has been composed by Isaac Stern after a trip round Wood Green shopping centre - a kind of grief-stricken blancmange, but strangely and wholly winning.

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