On My WayNovember 30, 2013
Watching Catherine Deneuve in On My Way, there were times when it seemed the film should be called Bad Grandma, or perhaps Mauvais Grand-mère. Like the revolting Irving Zisman in Jackass’s hit comedy, the elderly Bettie sets off on a rambling road trip to deliver her grandson to another relative. Her estranged daughter, Muriel, (played by pop singer, Camille), is not much of an advance on Irving’s daughter, Kimmie.
While Irving forces his sexual attentions on any woman in the vicinity, Bettie – even at the age of 69 – seems irresistible to males of all ages. At one point she gets drunk with a brazen young guy in a bar and wakes up in his bed. In most scenes she exerts an attraction that seems inversely proportionate to Irving’s negative charisma.
The success of this presumption relies on the screen presence of Catherine Deneuve, who still looks fabulous as she enters her seventies. Emmanuelle Bercot is not the first director to take advantage of Deneuve’s lingering appeal. In Potiche (2010), Francois Ozon cast the well-preserved actress against the bloated, dilapidated form of Gérard Depardieu, to striking effect.
Bettie is a former Miss Brittany who has never really left her home town where she runs a small restaurant. When she learns that her long-term lover is divorcing his wife only to marry a younger woman, she is thrown into despair. Leaving her meddling old mum and the struggling business, she gets in the car and goes for a drive. That drive keeps extending as she roams from village to village in search of a cigarette. When she is a long way from home, she gets a call from her daughter saying she has to go chase up a job opportunity, and asking Bettie to take care of her grandson. The plan is to take Charly (Nemo Schiffman) to stay with his paternal grandfather in a remote part of France.
In the style of a typical road movie, Bettie and Charly undergo a series of minor adventures that cause conflicts, but ultimately bring them closer together. The final meeting with Alain, the other grandpa, brings a new complexion to the story as he and Bettie go through a Jane Austen scenario – beginning as antagonists and ending as soul mates. It’s a curiosity that Alain is played by Gérard Garouste, a wellknown French painter who took part in the Sydney Biennales of 1986 and 1988.
It may be another paen to grey power and sexual longevity, but Bercot’s film is quirky and irreverent where so many of these movies wallow in sentimentality. Bettie is portrayed as a terminal failure in life who has finally decided to break free of the provincial mind-set. Her belated rebellion is a shambles, but also mildly exhilarating. If you can accept the glamorous Deneuve as Everywoman, the reassuring moral to this story is that you’re never too old to pack it all in and start again.
On My Way
France, rated MA 15+
Directed by Emmanuelle Bercot; written by Emmanuelle Bercot and Jérome Tonnerre; starring Catherine Deneuve, Schiffman, Gérard Garouste, Camille, Claude Gensac, Paul Hamy
Published in the Australian Financial Review, Saturday 30 November, 2013.