Venus Beauty Institute

1999, Movie, NR, 105 mins


Set in and around a Parisian day salon, this ensemble film could easily have been the French STEEL MAGNOLIAS: shallow, sassy fluff about feisty single women and their man troubles. But in the capable hands of actress-turned-writer/director Tonie Marshall, it's a beautifully acted slice of intersecting lives defined and driven by the business of beauty. The professionally cheerful Nadine (Bulle Ogier), whose spine of steel is only slightly softened by her bubble-gum pink suits, owns Venus Beauty, which is staffed by aestheticians Angele (Nathalie Baye), Samantha (Mathilde Seigner) and Marie (Audrey Tautou). The spa's clients bare more than their sallow complexions and frizzy hair, and while some provide comic vignettes — tanning junkie Mme. Buisse (Claire Nebout), for example, can't seem to keep her clothes on — others reveal glimpses of intimate fears and sadness. But the film's focus is Angele, who's entering middle age haunted by past romantic failure. She bravely declares she'd rather have one-night stands and no-strings flings than a grand amour, but her sorrowful eyes tell a different story. Then along comes young Antoine (Samuel Le Bihan), who awkwardly introduces himself in a cafe and declares his undying love. He's got a fiancĂ©e, he admits, but he'll handle that; all he wants is to spend the rest of his life with Angele, whom he first saw a few days earlier as she was being dumped by a callous lover. The rest of the movie's emotional currents — including innocent Marie's relationship with a wealthy widower and brash Samantha's emotional ups and downs — eddy around their rocky romance. And it's a pleasure to see the glorious parade of older French actresses in small roles; they include Edith Scob, Micheline Presle (Marshall's mother), Marie Riviere and Emmanuelle Riva. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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