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'Place Vendome'

Parisian setting, Catherine Deneuve add sparkle to heist flick 'Place Vendome'

Friday, January 05, 2001

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

The Place Vendome, as all upscale visitors to Paris know, is the dazzling hub of international diamond shops and jewelry establishments in a superbly preserved 18th-century architectural setting. I myself have spent hundreds of thousands of francs there -- in my mind.

Vincent Malivert (Bernard Fresson) has spent his life and career there, but not for much longer: Dogged by debt and by the purchase of "hot" gems that would ruin the prestigious Maison Malivert name if word got out, he is about to commit suicide -- but not before making sure that his foggy alcoholic wife Marianne (Catherine Deneuve) is provided for first.

Superficial elegance masks subterranean sleaze in director Nicole Garcia's "Place Vendome," a commercial location -- and a film -- where it's hard to tell the good hommes from the bad ones, especially if, like Marianne, you're in your cups most of the time. But she was once in the diamond biz herself, and existential ennui -- plus financial necessity -- combine to revive her old skills and find a buyer for the seven magnificent gems Vincent stowed away for her before his demise.

There are plenty of customers, including the London company from whom they were stolen, the Russian mafiosi who never got paid for fencing them, an assortment of seedy private investigators and repo men, plus Marianne's own brother-in-law, Eric -- Malivert the Malevolent.

Some of these guys -- including her two-timing old lover Jacques Dutronc -- are seeking romance as well as gems in this spider's web. They'd be fools not to, with white-widow Deneuve in the center of it. She sneak-drinks the leftovers in people's party glasses, and everyone treats her as a nuisance to be locked up in clinics and trotted out for special occasions (such as signing away her rights to the company at a board meeting).

What makes diamonds so valuable, someone asks her -- their perfection? their price?

"Same thing," she replies, a world-weary French Dietrich.

She shudders when she glances into the mirror, but despite the makeup department's best efforts to make her look frumpy and baggy-eyed -- it's our Catherine Deneuve, all right -- still gorgeous at 57, and winner of the Venice Film Festival's Best Actress award for her performance here.

A fine supporting cast, beautifully lush score, and Antonioni-esque pace and cinematography lend additional sparkle to "Place Vendome," opening today at the Regent Square, but this gem is awfully plotty. Love and jewels, however traditionally linked, don't mix well. A scorecard wouldn't hurt to help us follow all the cat-and-mouse twists.

It's billed as a "caper" and aims to be Hitchcockian, yet in the end comes off only half-Hitchcocked.

'Place Vendome'

RATING: Unrated but PG-13 in nature

STARRING: Catherine Deneuve, Emmanuelle Seigner, Jean-Pierre Bacri, Jacques Dutronc, Bernard Fresson

DIRECTOR: Nicole Garcia



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