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Overall Rating
4.14

Awesome: 14.29%
Worth A Look85.71%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 1 rating


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Priceless
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Petit Dejeuner Chez Amelie"
4 stars

“Priceless” is a film that appears to have been made to answer the question “How far can a movie get along with nothing going for it but the irrepressible charm of Audrey Tautou?” The answer, it turns out, is “pretty far.” The film is almost deliberately inconsequential from beginning to end–it would require an extended Russian roulette sequence and at least five total dismemberments to darken its load to the point where it could be described as “frothy”–but as a vehicle for displaying the mega-gamine charms of Tautou to their fullest extent, it is as shamelessly effective as all those movies that Audrey Hepburn used to do back in the day in which her mere presence managed to elevate even the flimsiest of premises into something worth watching.

Set in the lush resorts of the south of France, Tautou plays Irene, a cheerfully amoral gold-digger whose driving goal in life is to attach herself to rich and eligible men and use her considerable wiles to soak them for fancy meals, designer dresses, luxurious hotel suites and the like. One night, when her latest conquest conks out from indulging in a few too many drinks while waiting for her to finish primping, she goes down to the hotel bar and meets the mysterious Jean (Gad Elmaleh). She is intrigued by his charm and sincerity and really intrigued by the size of his hotel suite and spends the night with him before sneaking off the next morning to return to her sugar daddy. One year later, she returns to the same hotel with the same paramour and is thunderstruck to once again spot Jean in the restaurant. Inevitably, she cannot control her passion and just as inevitably, her current lover finds out and dumps her with nothing but the clothes on her back. She returns to Jean’s suite to take up with him for good and only then discovers that he is not the millionaire that he appears to be–he is actually a waiter at the hotel (or was, until being caught in someone else’s suite with her in a position that would be considered compromising even in the south of France) with hardly two Euros to rub together of his own.

The sweet-natured Jean feels terrible about what has happened and offers to make it up to Irene in any way that he can–naturally, this means keeping her in the style that she is accustomed to for as long as his bank account holds out. When he finally taps out after a day or two, she then abandons him to face the enormous hotel bill while she goes in search of her next mark. Miraculously, Jean’s charms catch the eye of another guest, wealthy older woman Madeleine (Marie-Christine Adam), and when Irene returns with the shlumpy multiple divorcee who is her stopgap conquest (too much alimony means too little money for her), she is surprised to find that the two of them are now on equal footing. Of course, the cheerfully sweet and naive Jean has no clue as to what he is doing but is willing to stick around in order to be nice to his new benefactor and to be able to surreptitiously spend time with Irene, with whom he is still besotted with and who takes him under her shapely wing in order to show him how to get the maximum rewards for a minimum of effort. (It helps enormously, we learn, to speak in sentence fragments that make it seem as if one’s very ability to speak has been hampered by their overwhelming desire.) Unfortunately for Irene, she seems to have a weak spot for Jean and even while she is teaching him the tricks of their mutual trade, she finds herself developing genuine feelings for him despite his relatively paltry bank account.

Yes, “Priceless” is another one of those bits of European fluff in which wildly attractive people coast through beautiful locations while going through the paces of the kind of storyline where the conclusion is all but certain even before the opening credits have finished rolling. In normal circumstances, frivolity of this sort can get a little aggravating after a while–there are few things in the world of film that have the potential for being annoying than the sight of well-paid actors gamboling about while clearly having more fun than the people watching them in the audience–but “Priceless” largely manages to avoid these pitfalls. Although it is a breezy and heedless light comedy through and through, it doesn’t rub it in your face to the point where you find yourself beginning to rebel against its whimsies. The characters are all classical farce archetypes but the screenplay by Benoit Graffin & Pierre Salvadori (the latter also directed) fleshes them out just enough to keep them from being one-dimensional cartoons. Of course, this adds an additional challenge to the proceedings–if Jean and Irene are fated to be together, where does that leave Madeleine, who acts as though she knows all the rules of the game but who seems to be developing real feelings for Jean as well?–and to the screenplay’s credit, it attempts to genuinely grapple with this potentially hurtful situation instead of cheating by suddenly making Madeleine into some kind of monster that needs to be humiliated. That said, don’t think for a second that the film suddenly bogs down into heaviness in the final reels–it is brisk and breezy from start to finish and Salvadori (whose previous film was the acclaimed “Apres Vous”) keeps things humming along at the proper pace without ever rushing the material or letting it lag.

These elements are all fine and good but, as previously indicated, it is the overwhelming presence of Audrey Tautou as Irene that makes “Priceless” worth checking out. Some might be taken aback by the notion of casting the woman best-known for portraying the adorably waifish Amelie in the role of a gold-digging vamp–in their eyes, a more conventional sex-bomb type might seem like a more logical choice. However, the more you think about it, the va-va-voom type wouldn’t really be the right one for this role. Yes, the character of Irene needs to be sexy but more importantly, she needs to have a certain sense of charm, allure and mystery to her that keeps her benefactors coming back for more even after they have gone to bed with her for the first time. Strutting around in a series of alluring outfits and skimpy bikinis, Tautou is gorgeous to behold–there isn’t a scene here in which her appearance doesn’t inspire the kind of reaction not normally seen outside of old Tex Avery cartoons–but she also brings that sense of charm, allure and mystery as well and as a result, she not only wraps all the guys in the movie around her dainty little pinkie, she has the exact same effect on the audience. Even in Irene’s most despicably greedy and nakedly self-serving moments, Tautou has a way of handling the material so that she still remains strangely likable despite her hateful behavior. Then again, if her mere presence can help persuade a dope like myself to sit through a monstrosity like “The Da Vinci Code” without fleeing the theater in horror, I guess she really does have the power to make people do anything she wants. Here’s hoping that she continues to use these powers for good instead of evil.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=16734&reviewer=389
originally posted: 04/11/08 14:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Vancouver International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Vancouver International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2008 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/17/11 Annie G Wonderful French film – available instant on Netflix – go watch it! 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  28-Mar-2008
  DVD: 18-Nov-2008

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Australia
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  DVD: 18-Nov-2008



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