Priceless

2008, Movie, PG-13, 103 mins

Review

PRICELESS | HORS DE PRIX
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The lovely Audrey Tautou and sad-eyed Gad Elmaleh are perfectly cast as a gold-digger and the poor sap who loves her, but the real star of Pierre Salvadori's larky, Lubitsch-esque farce is France's impossibly chic Cote d'Azure.

Passive, put-upon Jean (Elmaleh) works at a tony Biarritz hotel, Irene (Tautou) is the glamorous guest who, after dropping a considerable amount of her elderly fiancee Jacques' (Vernon Dobtcheff) money at the local boutiques, is ready to celebrate her birthday. But come evening Jacques is too drunk to leave their luxury suite, so Irene heads down to the hotel lounge where she finds the sole occupant -- Jean -- not behind the bar where he belongs, but sound asleep on a leather sofa. Seeing him dozing in his tux, Irene mistakes him for a fellow guest and Jean plays along, leading her to believe he's fabulously wealthy and sneaking her into the hotel's finest suite. After a night of passion, Irene slips back into Jacques' bed and Jean goes back to his drab life of servitude. A year later Irene and Jacques return, only this time things don't go as smoothly. Jacques sees Irene canoodling with Jean, cuts up her credit cards and then cuts her off completely. Irene runs to Jean claiming to have left Jacques, but Jean's cover is blown by a coworker. Revealing herself to be little more than a heartless adventuress on the make, Irene dumps Jean and catches a train to try her luck along the Cote d'Azure. Smitten, Jean follows her to Nice, even though he knows he could never afford a woman like Irene. Nevertheless, he empties his bank account and offers to keep her for as long as the money lasts, an arrangement Irene coldly accepts; after demanding the very best clothes, food and accommodations, Irene sells 10 seconds of her time for Jean's last euro. With his money gone and the steep hotel bill due, Jean is rescued by Madeleine (Marie-Christine Adam), a very wealthy widow who's looking for a new boy-toy to keep her company while she's in Nice. Almost by accident, Jean becomes a gigolo. Irene gives him tips on how to get the most out of his new employer while catching a fairly big fish (Jacques Spiesser) of her own. Impressed by Jean's persistence -- and all the lovely new things Madeleine's money can buy him -- she begins to see Jean in a whole new light.

Haute cuisine, haute couture and the Cote d'Azure: When it comes to guilty pleasures, the setting alone is enough. But like the best of Lubitsch's romantic comedies, there's a dark edge to the sunny frolics. Salvadori never loses sight of the fact that Jean and Irene degrade their souls by selling their bodies, but what makes it all so romantic is that Jean does everything out of love. Tautou brings charm, depth and poignancy to what could be a heartlessly calculating character. There's something undeniably touching about the scene in which she's once again left on her own, pouring over her little black book in search of the next guy to keep her off the streets. And the moment when she's locked out of her hotel room in her bikini and forced to shiver by the pool in the cool night air until the next guy comes along to pay her bill is a cold reminder that hustlers like Irene are always one step away from homelessness. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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