Lowdown: A simple valet wins a sexual lottery.
The Valet is a 2006 French film (which means it should be better known by its original title, La doublure) directed by the same guy that did The Closet (La placard) a few years earlier, Francis Veber. 2001’s The Closet happens to be one of my favorite comedies of all time, in particular due to the collaboration between two of the best actors around: Daniel Auteuil and Gérard Depardieu. The realization that The Valet features Auteuil meant watching it became a must.
The Valet’s valet is portrayed by Gad Elmaleh, whom I fondly remember from Priceless. Those fond memories are relevant here, because Elmaleh is essentially portraying the same character. He is a low income valet driver for a grand restaurant at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, which means that he’s driving exotic cars all day for a living but also means he doesn’t earn much and his social status is rather low, as reflected by him sharing a small flat with his partner in the valet driving business.
Elmaleh might have what is considered to be a lowly job but he does have his aspirations. Those are aimed mostly at the love of his life, the daughter of his father’s doctor, portrayed by Virginie Ledoyen. But he is aiming too high and is told he needs to settle for less: when he proposes to Ledoyen she basically chucks him out and tells him the main thing on her mind are the debts she’s in due to her opening a book store. You see, Ledoyen’s character has aspirations of her own: as The Valet makes pretty clear to us, Ledoyen has her principles, principles that include the love of books and antagonism towards the shallowness symbolized by the mobile phone culture.
As if on a parallel universe, there exists a character that is the complete opposite of Elmaleh’s: Daniel Auteuil. Auteuil plays a nasty piece of work billionaire who loves nothing but getting his way and doesn’t mind treading on others to get there. That includes marrying the very well French speaking Kristin Scott Thomas to access her family fortunes while, on the side, having an affair with a supermodel (Alice Taglioni) to whom he keeps promising an immanent divorce.
Things get complicated when paparazzi shoot Auteuil next to Taglioni in the middle of a Parisian street. How can he get away from paying the damage bill? His plan involves paying a random passerby that happened to be in the paparazzi's photo frame, Elmaleh, in order for him to pretend to be the supermodel’s true lover. Part two of the plan has to do with paying the model money to cooperate. Will the plan work? And what effect is its implementation going to have on the relationship between Elmaleh and Ledoyen?
The tension that comes as the film provides the answers to the above questions comes from the position Elmaleh is in. On one hand, he gets to spend his days and his nights in the company of a supermodel the rest of the world can only dream about, and dream they do as she makes an effort to prove Elmaleh's her lover. This puts Elmaleh is a position where he has to contend contend with a sky rocketing social status and the realization there’s more to life than this.
Overall, The Valet works extremely well. In my opinion, a lot of it has to do with the creation of sexual tension through the two female lead characters, the “original” girl (Ledoyen) and the supermodel (Taglioni) that flank Elmaleh on either side. And it’s a trap all heterosexual men with sexual organs between their legs would dearly want to find themselves in, because as much as Ledoyen is a good looking woman, Taglioni is made to look like an all out atomic bomb. Indeed, The Valet made me wonder whether Taglioni is really that good looking or whether it is all just movie magic; I suspect the answer is a lot of both, because there can be no doubt The Valet is using lots of well known cues taken from the fashion world to establish an image of beauty in our heads with regards to Taglioni’s character (starting from the obvious, showing hordes of men drooling at her). On the other hand, beauty is beauty, and Taglioni seems to have hefty amounts of un-Photoshopped beauty at her hands, face and body.
There is more to The Valet than sexual tension and pretty faces. There is also a clear demonstration for the value of truth and for the importance of being genuine, which are delivered in credible rather than forced ways. For example, Elmaleh’s attempt to propose to his loved one using an expensive diamond ring he could hardly afford but still got as a status elevation tool fails miserably. I would like to see more films provide this type of criticism to the institutionalized convention of associating diamond rings with engagements, as the two have nothing in common and diamonds are but an artificially overpriced piece of carbon.
Still, the main question I am left with after watching The Valet is whether the film would work on heterosexual women as well as it did on me given their severely reduced interest in Taglioni as a sexual object. And if that question is not the most classic question to take out of a French film, I don’t know what is.
Best scene(s): I didn’t know with which scene I should identify more, the scene where Elmaleh spends a night in bed with the supermodel or the scene in which his jealous flatmate comes over to inspect the supermodel under the guise of picking his left behind PlayStation up.
Overall: An excellent demonstration of how sexual tension can work to drive a film without a shred of actual explicit sex. A seemingly light yet deep 4 out of 5 stars romantic comedy for men that I highly recommend.