Foreign Objects travels the world of international cinema each week to look for films worth visiting. So renew your passport, get your shots, and brush up on the local age of legal consent, this week we’re heading to…
France! French films have seen a resurgence in US popularity due mainly to a series of brutal, intense, and gory thrillers over the past couple of years. Films like High Tension, Inside, and Martyrs have gained French cinema new fans looking to push the boundaries of their very souls. But the French film industry is no one-trick pony! (Which is good since they eat horses don’t they?) France also does romantic comedy!
Priceless is a new film starring Audrey Tautou (Amelie) and Gad Elmaleh (The Valet). When I say “new” I mean new to these shores, as the movie actually released in France in 2006. The film introduces Jean (Elmaleh) as a harried but competent employee in a posh hotel on the French Riviera. He passes out in the lounge one night and is awoken by Irene (Tautou) who mistakes him for a guest. Irene is a career companion, trolling for older men to provide her with financial support in exchange for companionship. Jean is younger than her usual targets, but a wealthy man is a wealthy man. (Except for when he’s not.) Bewitched by her charm and beauty, and liquored up from some flirtatious bar talk, Jean goes along with Irene’s assumptions and the two spend the night together. She soon discovers Jean’s ruse and the two part ways, but he’s already too far gone and allows her to suck him dry financially in an effort to win her over. She leaves, and unable to pay for the staggering debt Irene racked up, Jean’s taken in by an rich widow. He soon finds himself in Irene’s shoes as the younger play thing to an older benefactor, and when the pair next meets they compare notes, continue fooling around, and try not to fall in love.
I make no secret of my love for Amelie, and while Tautou has yet to find another role anywhere near as vibrant, original, and beautiful, I still find myself drawn to her pixie-like features. Priceless is the first post-Amelie film of hers to fully embrace her expressive face to it’s fullest. She’s adorable and beguiling, and can turn from goofy to sexy-as-hell in a blink. One scene finds Irene trying to teach Jean how to play the marks to maximize the gifts. “You have the lethal weapon,” she says. “Youth. Charm. Make use of it. Charm is more valuable than beauty. You can resist beauty but you can’t resist charm.” By way of example, she gives him the look that’s netted her closets filled with expensive clothes and accessories, then moves slowly to the bed, lies down… I was ready to hand over my wallet, credit cards, and 401k by this point. Much like the French Riviera around them, Tautou is beautiful in every scene. She’s often wearing dresses that threaten to release a French breast at any second, which is a tantalizing threat indeed, but some of the appeal fades when her toothpick legs and four-inch waist appear. (Thankfully her chest didn’t get the memo about downsizing.) Even if I wouldn’t really hand over my checkbook, I’d happily buy the girl a hearty meal.
There’s a bit more going on in Priceless than I’ve summarized above, but it’s simple charm is best experienced first hand. The two leads have a subtly mesmerizing chemistry as they weave around their current arrangements to find time with each other. It’s clear that Jean has fallen hard for Irene, but what motivates her attraction to him? The ending may be fairly predictable, the genre is hardly known for originality after all, but the road the couple takes to get there is fun, romantic, and entertaining. You could argue that their amoral behavior is never shown to be wrong or bad, but you’d be hard pressed to call the wealthy targets “victims.” They know what they’re getting for their money, and they spend it willingly. The only character really treading into uncertain waters is Irene. Sex, lies, and companionship are familiar ground to her, but love is something new altogether. Sure she had to whore herself out for years before she found it, but that’s French romantic comedies for you…
Priceless was released on DVD last week by First Look Home Entertainment. Check out the trailer below.
The Upside: Audrey Tautou is beautiful, sexy, and funny; beautiful locales; the leads are charming
The Downside: Audrey Tautou is too damn skinny; no consequences for their actions