An elaborate and elegant suspenser that gives Catherine Deneuve plenty of leeway to act up a storm, “Place Vendome” features coveted gemstones, the no-nonsense factions that want them and a woman’s revised take on her own destiny, played out against luxurious backdrops. Taut and nuanced from start to finish, with memorable, lived-in central characters and an appealingly melancholy tone, helmer/co-scripter Nicole Garcia’s third feature has what it takes to satisfy arthouse patrons worldwide.
A posh square in the moneyed heart of Paris, Place Vendome houses the Ritz Hotel and a select group of venerable jewelers, among them one run by Vincent Malivert (Bernard Fresson). Malivert obviously carries the weight of the world on his shoulders but has a kind word for ambitious young saleswoman Nathalie (Emmanuelle Seigner). His gruff brother, Eric (Francois Berleand), the firm’s artistic director, complains they’re short on raw materials with which to craft luxury accessories.
A trip to London to meet with reps of the De Beers empire makes it clear that despite his excellent reputation, Vincent is suspected of dubious practices. His colleagues in England think he may even have fenced stolen diamonds. Vincent’s wife of 18 years, Marianne (Deneuve), is a dissolute alcoholic who spends most of her time half-heartedly drying out in an upscale clinic.
But she sobers up when Vincent meets an untimely death. A former gem dealer who hasn’t lost her appraiser’s eye, Marianne can’t bring herself to sign the papers that will save the firm from bankruptcy by transferring the firm’s name into other hands.
A hidden pouch of exquisite diamonds that Vincent revealed to her before his death reawakens Marianne’s taste for commerce. Unfortunately, quite a few people — some of them unsavory — feel the stones are rightfully theirs.
Nathalie has been living with Jean-Pierre (Jean-Pierre Bacri), the only character who doesn’t take perfectly tailored suits and room service as a given of daily life. But Nathalie is leaving Jean-Pierre for an older, ambiguous man, roving gem broker Battistelli (Jacques Dutronc). Jean-Pierre’s job seizing the belongings of people in financial straits brings him in contact with Kleiser (Philippe Clevenot), whose mysterious employers are interested in the whereabouts of both the gems and Battistelli.
Marianne sets out on a multilayered adventure that is part detective work, part instinct and part date with destiny.
Set in the cafes, ritzy hotels and diamond markets of Paris and Antwerp, as well as behind the scenes in boardrooms and gem-cutting workshops, pic artfully juggles a complicated batch of characters whose true allegiances are harder to pin down than a blob of mercury.
Because the tale is played out in the upper echelons of prestige, the aura of menace is implied, never demonstrated. Voices are not raised but stakes are not lowered.
The result is both classy and gripping, and the viewer is kept guessing along with Marianne, at a pace that renders the movie consistently intriguing right through the tense double finale.
Deneuve’s Marianne is her most interesting and least aloof perf in some time. Supremely convincing in a tailor-made role, she evolves from a sort of Meg Ryan on Quaaludes — too spacey and detached to behave properly at her own husband’s funeral — to a vulnerable yet wise force to be reckoned with. And she’s quite entertaining when she falls off the wagon.
Dutronc is perfectly cast as the enigmatic Battistelli; Bacri and Seigner hold their own as Jean-Pierre and Nathalie. Intelligent, sometimes cutting dialogue gives thesps a meaty head start bringing their mostly wounded characters to life. Some viewers, however, may resent not being spoon-fed enough info to know at all times what’s going on.
Widescreen lensing abetted by thoughtful lighting is effective in making every encounter fraught with possibilities or hidden dangers. Sometimes lilting, sometimes melancholy, Richard Robbins’ lovely score is a cozy fit.