Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Priceless

Lowdown: Can buy me love.
Review:
One of the more interesting cinema related questions I can think of is what was it that made the French actress Audrey Tautou famous enough to star in Hollywood films. Sure, she did Amelie, but then again many French actors do good films. Anyway, Priceless, the latest film I got to watch Tautou star in, is a French production from 2006 where our heroine portrays a character which is just unaffordable (the correct, if not as sexy, translation to Priceless’ French title of Hors de prix).
To be more precise, Tautou is a young good looking girl living the life at the French Riviera with an old millionaire that will do anything to keep her by his side. The definition of “anything” in our particular case comes down to buying Tautou expensive jewelery and dresses and shoes on an hourly basis as together they constantly stay in ultra expensive hotel suites.
One night, after her partner falls asleep in bed, Tautou roams her hotel to find its barman (Gad Elmaleh). A useless barman he is: he sleeps on the job and walks around old ladies’ dogs for extra cash during the day. Only that on that particular night, Tautou mistakes our barman to be a millionaire even heavier than her old geezer, so they have themselves a night to remember at the barmen hotel’s most expensive suite (that he broke into).
A year passes and Elmaleh can’t stop daydreaming about Taotou and the glitter she brings with her; nothing in his life the way he knows it can compare. When they finally meet again they have themselves another night to remember, only that this time around they get caught: Elmaleh gets fired from the hotel and is exposed before Tautou for what he really is, while Tautou finds herself in the street with nothing but the clothes she’s wearing and no one to buy her new dresses.
Elmaleh jumps in to fill the gap in Tautou’s life. By gathering all of his life’s savings, he’s able to take her to expensive hotels and restaurants and buy her some new dresses and shoes she can wear once. But there’s just that much he can do before his money runs out, after which his only hope of being able to keep Tautou in his sights is… to take on her lifestyle and replace the old ladies’ dogs he used to walk with their owners.
Overall, Priceless is a very intriguing dramatic comedy to watch, driven by a wise script that doesn’t take itself too seriously, a pair of good actors at the lead, and direction work that often borders the genius. The nice French Riviera setting contributes a lot to the atmosphere, too: Nice is not only one of the nicer places I’ve been to (if we ignore the fact parking is virtually impossible), it is definitely expensive as well as glamorous in every respect. Although definitely a French production by look and feel, I do have to add that nudity wise Priceless fails to rise to French standards: it feels more like a puritan American production.
Priceless seems to be playing with us viewers as we go along. One moment we are amazed by the glamour, the next we are annoyed with Tautou for not realizing the love in front of her and opting instead for a dress. And another. And another. One can easily dismiss Priceless for that, but I found it altogether charming. Even with its corny ending.
Best scene:
As I said, there are some good shots at brilliance in Priceless. One of them could have been Elmaleh using his last Euro coin to buy ten seconds of Tautou’s time and spending those ten seconds just gazing at her face. Yet that scene is too obvious to pass as brilliant, and it even gets abused twice later on.
So my pick would go to a simple shot where Elmaleh is fetching five glasses of Champaign to his group during a party. Being that the party is rather crowded and being that Elmaleh is an expert waiter, he holds the glasses on a tray up high so that all we see through the crowds is the movement of the tray. And the events that take places with the tray’s flutes.
I know my description sounds mundane, but how often have you watched a recent Hollywood film and found yourself admiring a particular shot?
Technical assessment:
Picture and sound wise, Priceless is a very standard DVD that does a good job conveying the atmosphere at the Riviera. The real intrigue is supplied by the mundane feature of the DVD’s subtitles. Yes, the subtitles.
The main feature film has mandatory English subtitles that you can’t get rid of, which would probably annoy those whose French is good enough to want out. The supplementals, on the other hand, have no subtitles at all, rendering them entirely useless to non French speakers (myself included). Which raises the question, what were they thinking? Obviously, they weren’t.
Overall: Simple yet good, which is not an achievement to belittle. I would rate it somewhere between 3.5 to 4 stars out of 5 and recommend it to all lovers of French cinema.

1 comment:

Wicked Little Critta said...

I thought this film was adorable. The first 10 minutes or so had me expecting much less...it seemed to be more on track with your run-of-the-mill American romantic comedy, but soon after it thankfully broke that mold.

I thought they had great on-screen chemistry, and there were some really good moments. It had a level of freshness and realness that most rom-coms lack, probably due to the actors and script, as you mentioned.

Other great moments: when Tautou wakes up on the beach watches him, and after his plastic surgery in the car when the woman buys him a watch...

And yes, the ending is corny. I think I blocked it out.