Priceless (Hors de Prix)
“Charm is better than good looks,” Irene (Audrey Tautou) assures Jean (Gad Elmaleh), though she has both. I am afraid Tautou will always be Amélie no matter what else she does with her career, but here her charm is absolutely necessary to counteract the mercenary instincts that might otherwise alienate the audience for this trifling Riviera comedy.
See, Irene is a gold-digger. She uses her beauty and youth to captivate rich older men. She hasn’t landed the big fish yet, but she’s working on it.
Jacques (Vernon Dobtcheff) is the likeliest prospect, except for his irritating habit of hitting the sauce. He’s passed out upstairs in a plush Biarritz suite when Irene comes down to the hotel bar. It’s after midnight and it’s her birthday, but so late (or so early) that the place is deserted except for Jean. He gamely offers her a cocktail, one thing leads to another, and next thing you know he’s showing her the Imperial Suite. What she doesn’t realize until too late – and Jacques has kicked her out – is that Jean isn’t a millionaire; he works there.
Irene can start over again on a new prospect, and she does, but now she has Jean to deal with too. He’s in love and willing to bankrupt himself to prove it (not that it takes long). Eventually he sees that the only way to keep her in the manner to which she is determined to become accustomed is to play her game with the first wealthy widow who presents herself…
Director Pierre Salvadori made a couple of the best French comedies of recent years, Wild Target and Les Apprentis. His latest begins breezily, very much in the “continental” style of Ernst Lubitsch comedies from the 1930s, when landing a millionaire was everyone’s favourite sexual fantasy. It seems we haven’t progressed much, although in Lubitsch’s day the Ritz set were probably less hypocritical about these mutually exploitive relationships (and so were the critics).
The movie runs out of laughs as the romantic complications stack up – Salvadori might have done better to steer the climax towards farce, not sentiment – but it’s diverting enough. I liked the snappy jazz score too.
Elmaleh (The Valet) suggests that Jean is a kinder, gentler hustler, an opportunist certainly, but a romantic above all. Irene is more single-minded in her pursuit of unlimited spending power, but Salvadori doesn’t judge her for that. The guys she fleeces have money to burn. In a lovely, simple scene she introduces Jean to the delights of an irresponsible afternoon getting drunk on wine. Only a curmudgeon would demur.
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