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With: Nathalie Baye, Bulle Ogier, Samuel Le Bihan, Jacques Bonnaffé, Mathilde Seigner, Audrey Tautou, Robert Hossein
Written by: Tonie Marshall, Jacques Audiard, Marion Vernoux
Directed by: Tonie Marshall
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality/nudity and language
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 105
Date: 02/03/1999

Venus Beauty Institute (2000)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Beauties and Beasts

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

One of the things I love about French movies is the way the camera gazes at beautiful French women both old and young. Venus Beauty Institute has a pair of stunners, one in her 40's (Nathalie Baye, from Francois Truffaut's Day for Night) and one in her 20's (Audrey Tautou), and the camera loves them both. We thoroughly get to know their faces by the end of the movie.

The movie focuses more attention on Baye, the older of the two, which is exactly the opposite of what would happen if this movie were made by Americans. Baye plays Angele, a beautician whose attitude on love and romance is jaded and burnt out. We first see her happily chattering away with a new love interest. She chatters perhaps too much, though, and the beau leaves her forever. However, another shaggy fellow has witnessed the scene and has fallen madly in love with Angele. He spies on her and eventually speaks to her in a cafe. It turns out he's a sculptor (only in France can a sculptor make a living) with a fiancee, but he's unable to stop thinking about our Angele.

Tautou, who won a special Cesar award for Best Young Actress, plays Marie, a young goddess who treats an older man at the beauty institute. The man's face scars were covered with flesh from his late wife's body, and he wants to take care of it. Marie is drawn to the tender older man, much to the horror of her co-workers.

Interestingly, none of the men in Venus Beauty Institute are very attractive. Besides the shaggy, homeless-looking sculptor and the wounded man, there is also Angele's friend with scars on one side of his face. Every time he comes in the shop, another of the workers asks him, "facial?" In another scene, a sleazy guy comes in wondering if he can get an erotic massage.

With Venus Beauty Institute, director Tonie Marshall turns in a lightweight, enjoyable film where love wins out over all. It even takes place during Christmas and New Year's Eve, lending a magical feel to the proceedings. This is helped by the harp-strum noise that accompanies every opening of the beauty institute's door. (Though if I heard it one more time I was going to rip my hair out.)

Overall, Venus Beauty Institute is merely an excuse to gaze at beautiful women and for audiences to nurse their romantic longings. It's a great date movie, provided your date doesn't mind reading subtitles.

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