BERLIN -- Part road movie, part golden years romantic comedy, Emmanuelle Bercot’s “On My Way,” premiering Friday at the Berlin International Film Festival, is also a love affair between director and actor. And not just any actor, but French national treasure Catherine Deneuve.
Deneuve plays over-60 ex-beauty queen Bettie. Jilted by her lover, harangued by her busybody mother, and about to lose the family seafood restaurant, Bettie gets in the car for a drive and ends up on a grand adventure. On the go, she runs into a string of mostly nice oddballs, picks up a sidekick -- her rambunctious grandson Charly (played by Nemo Schiffman), from her troubled estranged daughter (played by singer Camille) -- and charms her way across France, all the while bumming cigarettes from what seems like most of the country’s residents.
Bercot, who wrote and directed 2005’s “Backstage” and was co-writer of 2011’s “Polisse,” gives us a lover’s view of the slowly fading beauty -- the camera lingers affectionately on Deneuve’s hair, face, eyes, arms and polished toenails, and a young lover (Paul Hamy) remarks how he envisions her younger self while they are intimate.
“There's only one raison d’etre for this film and that’s Catherine. I wrote it for her,” Bercot said in Berlin. “The driving force behind this film was not the story we tell in the film, but rather working with Catherine. She is the film, as far as I am concerned. I can’t put it any better than that.” Deneuve countered with care, saying she joined the originally unformed project solely for the chance to work with Bercot, not for the richly drawn character she ended up portraying.