13 February 2008 | Chris Knipp
Much ado about Deauville
This complicated frou-frou from the popular French actress Sophie Marceau is her second directorial effort. It tanked last summer with French critics as did her first of a few years ago, the not very memorably titled Parlez-moi d'amour. What's wrong this time? To begin with, this is a mystery thriller, and except for a few masters like Clouzot and Chabrol, the French aren't generally very good at those. Actor Guillaume Canet's 2006 Tell No One/Ne le dis a personne is a much better one than this. It is more exciting and involving, and though it also is a bit too complicated, it winds things up tightly and clearly at the end, which this does not. (Tell No One nonetheless went quickly to DVD in the US; its bevy of well known French screen actors held no Stateside power to enchant.) La Disparue de Deauville weighs itself down right away with a whole panoply of overly familiar ingredients: a disfigured body whose identification is therefore questionable; a manipulative mom in a wheelchair with a weak son; a depressed police detective willing to break laws to solve his case; a deluxe hotel full of secrets whose manager (Robert Hossein) has disappeared; a seaside location; a fancy car abandoned on a cliff.
On top of that, there's Victoria Benutti, a beautiful actress long dead whose image--now it seems her phantom--haunts the living. Marceau, who plays this ghostly diva herself (channeling Isabelle Adjani with the help of raincoat, black wig, and scarf ), presents too much about this vaguely defined character, too soon--a whole "secret" suite in the hotel, in fact, papered with thousands of euros worth of stills and fake Sixties fanzines about Benutti. Panning around a room full of stills isn't a very good way to start a thriller. It isn't a good way to develop character either. Even before this Victoria or her clone appears directly Jacques, the disturbed detective (Christophe Lambert, in very, very rumpled mode). She comes to him in his car and orders him to drive across the bridge from Le Havre to Deauville and find room 401 in the Hotel Riviera.
And then Jacques gets suspicious and starts breaking rules and stealing keys, trashing hospital medicine cabinets and swiping computers, and he puts the pressure on the disabled mom (Marie-Christine Barraut). There is even a chase, when Jacques has gone out of control in a tiny borrowed car and his police department cohort Pierre (Simon Abkarian) and his chubby girl partner chase him going the wrong way on the auto-route. The trouble with this effort to generate excitement is that we don't care much where Jacques is going. Too bad; it's a pretty good chase. An appealing ally for Jacques in his investigations is the manager's weak son, Camille (Nicolas Briançon).
The French title means "The Missing (female) Person of Deauville." Did I mention that the English title is Trivial? Presented as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center, February 29-=March 9, 2008.