Catherine Deneuve's towering presence in the annals of French movie stardom as a reigning "ice queen" of distant, unapproachable beauty is a cliché the actress has been enjoyably destroying for the past few years with a series of performances that have been taking her age in stride. None more so than in this third feature from the multi-hyphenate actress, director and screenwriter Emmanuelle Bercot, a film that seems intent on using that image and tearing it apart by showing the beating heart of a real person under it, though it doesn't quite have a plan for it once it does. No matter; though Elle s'en va never quite gels together, it does send the viewer out of the theatre in a cheerful mood, in no small part thanks to Ms. Deneuve's regal performance as former beauty queen Bettie Charpentier, who runs a restaurant in the small coastal village she has spent all her life in.

     Finding the world crashing down around her as she struggles to make ends meet, Bettie one day simply has enough and runs off in her car on an aimless road trip away from the oppressive sense of dead end her life has gotten stuck in. But the road trip eventually does find an aim, as she gets a call out of nowhere from her estranged daughter Muriel (singer Camille), asking if Bettie will drive grandson Charly (Nemo Schiffman) to her paternal grandfather for a vacation. After a first half showing Bettie as lost and unsure, Ms. Bercot and Ms. Deneuve rebuild her as a woman who accepts herself and decides to start anew through the connection with the grandson she hardly knows; the director plays the actress off non-professional actors through most of the film (shot during an actual road trip) and has her battle for screen space with Mr. Schiffman (Ms. Bercot and DP Guillaume Schiffman's real-life son), who more than holds his own as Charly.

     In many ways, Bettie and Charly are kindred spirits who bring out the best in each other, but the script doesn't really make the most out of the premise, eventually harnessing the first half's freeform rhythm to a more predictable family-secret plot, with the obligatory happy end rounding off the plot. Admittedly, it's a bumpy ride with an engine that occasionally stalls, but it's also true that, for all that, Ms. Deneuve's game and lively performance and Ms. Bercot's adroitness at capturing it make up for whatever shortcomings Elle s'en va may have and make it a reasonably enjoyable, life-affirming comedy stuck in predictable trappings.

Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Nemo Schiffman, Claude Gensac, Gérard Garouste, Paul Hamy, Mylène Demongeot, Hafsia Herzi, Camille
Director: Emmanuelle Bercot
Screenplay: Ms. Bercot, Jérôme Tonnerre
Cinematography: Guillaume Schiffman (colour, widescreen)
Designer: Éric Santoza
Costumes: Pascaline Chavanne
Editor: Julien Leloup
Producers: Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonnier (Fidélité Films in co-production with Wild Bunch and Rhône-Alpes Cinéma)
France, 2013, 112 minutes

Screened: Berlin Film Festival 2013 official competition advance press screening, Cinemaxx am Potsdamer Platz 7, Berlin, February 15th 2013


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