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‘On My Way’ examines the continuity of life

“On My Way” (“Elle s’en va”) (2013 production, 2014 release). Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Nemo Schiffman, Gérard Garouste, Camille, Claude Gensac, Paul Hamy, Mylène Demongeot, Hafsia Herzi, Séréphin Ngakoutou Beninga. Director: Emmanuelle Bercot. Screenplay: Emmanuelle Bercot and Jérôme Tonnerre. Web site. Trailer.

It’s easy – perhaps all too easy – to become reconciled about our lives. We convince ourselves that our journeys are destined to follow set, unalterable paths. Yet we also often hope that they’ll take different courses, especially if the directions we’ve become sold on aren’t to our liking. And sometimes we even wind up pleasantly surprised. No matter what the outcome, however, we can always count on life’s inherent continuity, for better or worse and no matter what we choose to manifest, an idea explored in the delightful new French comedy-drama, “On My Way” (“Elle s’en va”).

Life sometimes doesn’t turn out as hoped for. Just ask Bettie (Catherine Deneuve), an aging former beauty queen now in her early 60s. Having grown up an apple-cheeked small town girl, Bettie blossomed into a beautiful young woman, effortlessly capturing the title of Miss Brittany 1969. Almost overnight, she attained unexpected notoriety, even becoming a contender in the Miss France competition. Unfortunately, the fulfillment of that aspiration got derailed by a car accident not long before the finals, her hopes tragically dashed. And, in the ensuing years, after the glory of her past faded, Bettie found herself right back where she started – living with her mother, Annie (Claude Gensac), in the same small town and in the same house where she grew up.

But, if Bettie’s shattered pageant dreams weren’t bad enough, she also experienced her share of other disappointments, including the untimely death of her husband, the heartache of being jilted by a lover, the venomous ingratitude of her estranged, self-absorbed daughter, Muriel (Camille), and the ravaging effects of time on her physical appearance. And, on top of all that, the source of her livelihood – the charming seafood restaurant she lovingly built – is now on the brink of failure. It’s all a bit much to handle.

Feeling overwhelmed by her circumstances, Bettie impulsively decides to take off one day. She walks out of her restaurant at the height of the lunch hour, leaving everyone and everything behind. She goes for a drive to clear her head, but the longer she’s gone, the less interested she is in returning. So she sets off on an impromptu road trip, letting things take their course without any type of set agenda.

As Bettie’s journey progresses, some things go from bad to worse. The severity of her financial woes becomes painfully apparent, and her worst (albeit overblown) fears about what others think of her looks are repeatedly confirmed, even by total strangers. But, at the same time, she also experiences many unexpected pleasures, such as an overnight fling with an amorous young admirer (Paul Hamy), a late night emotional catharsis with a furniture store security guard (Séréphin Ngakoutou Beninga) and a fun-filled gathering with her pageant sisters, including her old friend Fanfan (Mylène Demongeot). Her biggest joys, however, come in a heartfelt reunion with her grandson, Charly (Nemo Schiffman), and a chance encounter with a potential new romantic interest, Alain (Gérard Garouste). There’s even hope of a reconciliation with Muriel. Suddenly, life doesn’t seem quite so bad after all, even if it does require making some adjustments. Indeed, before long, Bettie truly is “on her way.”

It’s been said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. However, there’s one more item that belongs on that list: As long as we’re physically incarnate, life itself is a certainty in its own right. It has its own inherent continuity that persists until our final departure from it. Of course, the key question for us in the meantime is, what do we make of it?

How our lives turn out ultimately depends on us and what we do with them. The beliefs we hold serve to shape our perspectives, which, in turn, color the nature of our respective realities. This is the essence of the conscious creation process, which makes it possible to experience whatever probabilities we choose to conceive for ourselves. But, again, the key question for us in this is, what are we to make of those probable choices?

These considerations are at the forefront of what Bettie is now facing. Will she continue to view the glass as half empty, or is she willing to make a leap of faith and see it as half full? Her road trip experiences provide her with a palette showcasing all of these options, but which one will she decide to embrace?

Under such circumstances, many of us fall back on our past to guide us in our decision making for what we experience going forward. Whatever we’ve typically encountered previously is likely to frame our prevailing outlook, and the more we buy into it, the more likely we’ll continue to manifest comparable experiences – unless, of course, we change our minds and choose to explore different options.

In Bettie’s case, she’s lived a life characterized by regrets, disappointments and unexplored possibilities. And, in many ways, she anticipates a future of more of the same. But is that set in stone? And is that what she really wants? The new frustrations she experiences on her road trip would seem to confirm her worst expectations.

But how does such a dour worldview account for the unexpected joys she experiences while on the road? The materialization of those pleasant occurrences gives her hope for fulfilling alternatives to her seemingly hardwired dismal expectations. All she need do is embrace the beliefs that make those other options possible. If she does, she just might find that life can take a very different course from what she’s anticipating.

Rarely are our lives all black or all white; most of us experience some of each, as well as the middle shades of gray. Such circumstances are all part of being human. What’s more, they also make possible the evolution that each of us goes through in our corporeal journeys. In fact, these intrinsic conditions underlie the core conscious creation principle that we’re all in a constant state of becoming. Bettie is just now learning this for herself, but, thankfully, for her sake, better late than never. Indeed, as so many of those around her repeatedly observe, “life goes on” – and in all its myriad forms at that.

I believe the themes explored in this film take on added importance as we age, especially if we’ve never allowed ourselves to evolve much (or at all) over the years. In that regard, Bettie serves as a quintessential tour guide for such an experience. Through her, we get to witness the continuity of life in all its rich, diverse splendor. Simultaneously, Bettie provides us with many examples to draw from when it comes to such crucial considerations as our power of choice, our capacity for change and our ability to tap into life’s inherent (if not always expected) connectedness. And what a rewarding experience it all is! We can only hope that we, like Bettie, manage to fit it all in – while we still have the time to do so.

“On My Way” is a mostly enjoyable, though sometimes-uneven exploration of the foregoing concepts. The picture’s exquisite cinematography brilliantly showcases the simple beauty of rural France in much the same way that “Under the Tuscan Sun” (2003) depicts the idyllic Italian countryside. Deneuve delivers a terrific performance as the beleaguered protagonist, and the film’s colorful supporting cast (featuring many locals making their big screen debuts) adds delicious dashes of whimsy and eccentricity. However, an occasionally meandering screenplay and periodic pacing issues (especially in the first 30 minutes) take the story off track at times, elements that, if tightened up, would have strengthened an already-entertaining picture.

The panorama that is life is something always at our disposal. How much of that beautiful mosaic we choose to view, however, is entirely on us. We can focus on a particular aspect, examine multiple elements or take in the big picture, depending on what interests us and what we choose to experience. But we need never reconcile ourselves to a belief that things are fixed unless we intentionally choose to do so. “On My Way” shows us the options that are open to us for life and its continued unfolding, and it does so with a sense of fun, enjoyment and appreciation – qualities we should all employ in the creation of our own respective realities.

Copyright © 2014, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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