Venus Beauty Institute is a vehicle for French actress Nathalie Baye, who made her screen debut in François Truffaut’s Day for Night (1973). Far from being a movie-star beauty, Baye has the more beguiling charm of an actual person and, like the two Isabelles (Adjani and Huppert) has barely seemed to age as the decades have passed. Here she plays Angele, a woman hovering around 40 (in real life Baye is just past 50) and who works in the beauty shop which gives the film its title, a candy-colored refuge whose door emits a harplike glissando each time it’s opened (which is constantly).
Part of the film deals with the workers at the shop, their firm but elegant boss (Bulle Ogier) and the various clients, mostly women, who come to be pampered, pummeled, tanned and rejuvenated. On this level, it’s a light comedy centered around the vanity that accompanies aging, though an occasional bizarre turn is taken, as in the case of one elder gent (Robert Hossein) who seems to have wandered in from a Buñuel film. Having had some skin from his late wife’s buttock grafted onto his face (presumably while she was still alive), he seeks the special attention of the shop’s youngest worker (Audrey Tautou). Romance ensues and it’s a testimony to the film’s capacity for the gentle touch that it isn’t a creepy affair.
But the main story here is Angele’s and how, unlucky in love, she finds that her last chance may have arrived in the form of an amiable stalker. Angele is the kind of person you root for, despite her moody imperfections, and also the kind of person who seems destined to come to a drab end — which makes it all the more gratifying when the film ends its episodic journey with a scene of implausible beauty.
Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward, Detroit), Friday-Sunday. Call 313-833-3237.