Venus Beauty Institute (2000) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

"She doesn't care about beauty" 

"Well, that's all we sell here"

This French film just about swept the Cesar awards last year, the Gallic equivalent of an Oscar sweep.  The French don't make romantic comedies, but if they did, this would be it. It's more of a romantic irony. In Hollywood, irony is generally the enemy of romance, but this is France after all, where Hollywood's false sincerity is anathema, and people often fall into bed after insulting each other.

Although not so fluffy and brainless as a Hollywood picture, neither is it a typical, excessively talky attempt to be profound. In addition to avoiding profundity, the film includes no attempts at fancy "cinema". The photography is beautiful and colorful, but the cuts and camera angles are devoid of artiness, and the narrative is straightforward. You might compare it to an Almodovar film, except it's Almodovar for chicks.

Our heroine works in a beauty salon, where her knowledge of creams and massages and hair care makes her prized by the customers who want to turn back the hands of time. The Institute represents a haven from the real world, a study in pinks and blues that ought to be populated by Botticelli angels, earmarked by a heavenly chime that sounds whenever the door opens. 

The irony is that the physician cannot heal herself. She wants to turn back those hands herself, but she doesn't know how. 

She's 40ish, but she's beautiful, so why is she so obsessed with being a girl? She is offered a chance to manage her own salon, but she just wants to work alongside the young girls. Although she doesn't have to, she washes herself with cold water in the hall of her apartment building, as she did when she was young and penniless. She has no interest in love and commitment, only in one-night stands, "a movie and a fuck". What is all this about?


Claire Nebout, as a tan-obsessed customer, walks around stark naked during several scenes.

The breasts of Helene Fillieres are seen very briefly.

Nathalie Baye took a shower behind a frosted shower curtain, and nothing could be seen.

There are some funny moments. There is a bossy customer who is permanently naked, obsessed with getting the perfect tan. There are two old maiden aunts who live in the country and think that, since Anna lives in Paris, she must know Charles Aznavour.

The humor can be surprisingly cruel in some ways, or maybe "sad" is a better word. The old ladies who come to the institute, obsessed with their wrinkles and liver spots, deathly afraid of losing their man's attention, are inherently pathetic in their lack of self-worth, and the Beauty Institute represents their obsession with superficial matters. On the other hand, the sweet romance between the beautiful naif and the sad widower is handled with utmost delicacy, bring both parties great joy, and the script overcomes even the cynicism of the other girls toward this affair.

Some of it has to do with washing in the hall in her childhood. Most of it has to do with a former love. She caused great pain to someone she cared about. We know that, but not many details. The defining moment in her life seems to be now, and the important decision seems to be whether to throw herself into a passionate affair with a younger man who is obsessed with her.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen letterboxed, 1.85:1. 

  • no meaningful features

It is clear that the film plays out best with the 30-44 set, those who haven't yet accepted middle age, but are aware of its imminence. It scores 7.7 with that age group, but much lower with younger and older audiences. 

Age group rating
0-17 5.8
18-29 6.9
30-44 7.7
45+ 6.5

The Critics Vote

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.1 
  • With their dollars ... it was seen by 1.2 million people in France, about the equivalent of a film doing $50 million in the USA, given the population difference.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+. A top-notch romantic irony. A lively, pretty, brightly colored bauble of a chick-flick with no crossover to mainstream English-speaking audiences, little male appeal, and a highly targeted age group appeal.

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