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On My Way

For at least a century, French national identity has been heavily invested in the historic cultural personages whose names are enshrined in France’s Pantheon of the great: Moliere, Hugo, Flaubert, Debussy, Cocteau, Sartre, etc. (Of course, French identity has also rested on explaining the importance of Americans like Jerry Lewis and Clint Eastwood to their clueless compatriots.) But hey, those are all (dead) guys. Where’s Catherine Deneuve? If she isn’t iconic, who is? And she’s still very much with us, as Emmanuelle Bercot’s On My Way proves (as if proof were needed).

The French more or less invented le cinema, didn’t they? And for a long time they had a near monopoly on interpreting everyone’s (particularly Americans’) movies for them. So who better than la Deneuve to represent the self-proclaimed superiority of French culture? For over half a century she’s worked to often stunning effect in films by directors from Luis Buñuel to Lars van Trier. Film historian David Thomson has written “she deserves a place with the most enchanting women of cinema.” If On My Way is any indication, she’s far from finished.

In it, she’s Bettie, a 60-something widow and proprietor of a Brittany bistro. On the evening of the day we meet her, she learns that her married lover has abandoned her for a younger woman, without even a word. The next day, amid the lunch rush, she abruptly leaves the restaurant and drives off without so much as a cigarette. And thus begins a series of chance encounters and little adventures that will eventually mark past and current life challenges she hasn’t really confronted. Not that anything momentous happens. Along the long, meandering route—mostly through the Loire region—of a trip that began as a search for a cigarette, she encounters a number of helpful, unfailingly friendly and sometimes poignantly quirky people. These strung-together vignettes acquire a through line when Bettie accepts the impromptu responsibility to ferry Charly (Nemo Schiffman), the bright, slightly resentful son of her estranged daughter, to the lad’s paternal grandfather. And so On My Way becomes an oddball buddy, as well as a road, picture, before it resolves itself into a family confrontation movie. Not to worry. It never comes close to anything less or more than a warmly sympathetic if often witty experience. Bercot has a light, sure touch, and at the center of her movie is Deneuve, who gets to exercise an infrequently exhibited deftness with comedy material.

On My Way may not be consequential, but, in its charming way, it delivers.

Watch the trailer for On My Way

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