by Chris Parry
Just once I'd like to see Nathalie Baye show us a love affair on film that wasn't disfunctional. I mean, it's not as if she's not great at displaying relationship disfunctionality, it's just that you can only thump the pillow with your fists so many times before it gets old. eventually the audience is going to give up a collective, 'oh for gods sake, just screw the guy already', and then your entire storyline is shot to hell. In Venus Beauty Institute, a French flick that Baye won awards aplenty for, the same rules apply. In fact, the only thing that holds this film back from being a five-star classic is the inevitable, interminable feeling that this could all be over a lot sooner if Baye's character would just stop being such a nonce, throw her thighs around the guy who is obviously supposed to be with her forever, and just save us the histrionics.So Nathalie Baye is Angele, a beautician with a perma-frown. She tends to throw her 'gina around like a party favor in a vain bid to find love, one way or another, and when all she gets is cigarette-smoking Frenchmen who think three days is all the commitment they can take, she goes deeper into depression.
"Why can't Nathalie Baye ever get laid in a film without hysterics?"
Her colleagues at the beauty institute aren't as sad, but they're equally messy. There's Samantha (Mathilde Seigner), who ranks her sexual conquests according to how many rugby matches they've won (we're talking teams, not players), then there's Marie (Audrey Tatou of last year's breakout hit Amelie) who seems to be happy to sleep with men based on what gifts she receives from them, and store patron Madame Nadine (Bulle Ogier), sho spends more time looking in the mirror than seeing what's reflected in it.
Amidst all of this, Angele is one day spotted at the train station by a wild-haired younger guy (Jacques Bonaffe) getting dumped by some arrogant clod. He falls in love with her based on the way she responds to this episode, and spends the coming weeks trying to convince her that his love is pure, his heart strong, and his intentions clean. She, being a multiple loser in the love department, is hardly welcoming of the stranger's advances, and even when she decides he'd be good for a shag, she comes across so insincere and forceful that he walks away.
And that, a place that many French romances seem to find themselves in these days, is where things go from compelling to a little dreary. It's not that events that can't be controlled stop these two from being together, it's that one of them is too much of a headcase to just go with it. Granted, there are a lot of people out there in this very position (I've professed love to more than my share, truth be told), but that doesn't mean it's a pleasant way to spend two hours of your life.
Nathalie Baye, as always, is perfect in the lead role. She's a great actress, no doubt about it, and deserves every decibel of applause she receives for her performance, but there could have been much more to this film beyond performances if only the screenplay had held up to the strain. Written and directed by Tonie Marshall (daughter of famed American actor William Marshall and French actress Micheline Presle), with a little script assistance from up'n'comer Marion Vernoux and old-hand Jacques Audiard, the film starts strongly and keeps your interest for two thirds of the running time, but too much of a good thing inevitably becomes a bad thing, and that's where I get off the rollercoaster and go get some cotton candy.Well worth a rental, especially if you're interested in seeing where Audrey Tatou came from (sigh), and while my review may seem overly negative when I'm ending up by telling you to go see it, that's just because I started watching a fantastic film and finished watching an average one. It should have been groundbreaking... as is, it was just good.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=4521&reviewer=1
originally posted: 05/07/03 13:55:56