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Considering the last film I saw featuring Audrey Tautou was the not so great The Da Vinci Code, when I saw the trailer for her latest French language work, Hors de prix, I jumped at the chance to see this beauty once again. With a premise of her as a gold digger, allowing wealthy men to pay for her completely, accidentally thinking a hotel bartender/bellboy was a rich businessman and subsequently finding out the truth, it seemed to have potential for laughs. Especially once you see that the man she mistook for a mark, after losing his job when found out, becomes a male gold digger himself. While at first he tries to woo her into believing that what they had was real, he soon finds himself broke and on the brink of incarceration before an older woman steps in to save him at the price of his companionship. So, Jean and Iréne find themselves together again, this time as friends with a common goal, to get as much out of their “loves” as they can…that is, until they finally see that true love is what matters and not expensive dresses or watches. This is a romantic comedy after all.

With a predictable overall arc, the film still manages to entertain through the sheer fun of what these people go through. At the beginning, you really start to feel bad for Jean as he is caught up in a tryst with someone way out of his league, yet trying to keep up appearances so it can last as long as possible, even if that is just one night. When Iréne discovers the truth, her payback is so cruel to watch—not just due to her enjoyment in watching Jean’s bank account quickly disappear, but also from the utter dejection on his part, in love and unable to give up hope, going as far as buying a final ten seconds to simply stare into her eyes before she goes. As all rom-coms prove, never think the two leads will be apart for long. From a major coincidence that this older woman allows Jean to stay in the hotel as her escort, just as Iréne has found a new man to con, the two begin a competition to see who can acquire more presents than the other. It’s at this point that the film really picks up speed and becomes a laugh riot, showing how a little sulking and “close but distant” expressions can make one’s lover crumble into doing anything. Watching Jean ride into frame on a scooter with his 30,000 Euros watch on his wrist is, as the title translates, priceless.

What keep the movie working and endearing are the performances. Since the story is somewhat slight and obvious we need the acting to hold our interest during the wait. Tautou is great as always, showing off her stunning figure whenever possible, as well as her impeccable comic timing and wealth of facial expressions. I always find it a riot when an actor must “act” in the film. When trying to show Jean how to seduce someone, she turns from friendly to sultry and ambivalent, drawing him in, before snapping back to normal saying, “you see how that works?” without missing a beat. Her expressions in response to the success that Jean finds while on his first scam are also a joy to behold.

The supporting cast does well to enhance everything as it transpires. Marie-Christine Adam, for instance, as Jean’s partner Madeleine, plays the strong wealthy widow to perfection. She is constantly sizing up her new toy, finding what colors suit him and what trinkets she can purchase to make him happy. Always waking him up by a not so subtle throw of a pillow, Adam shows the playful romantic bent while still being able to portray the steely, shrewd woman she is, telling Jean that she knows exactly what he is doing and is willing to continue as long as he plays by the rules. This is a world of debauchery and incalculable wealth. Every player knows their role and doesn’t seem to mind in the slightest—neither those taking advantage nor those being taken. It’s a parasitic world with all parties receiving something from the deal, and that unabashed knowledge makes it more fun as these two paupers find themselves a little too close to the line where acceptance turns into rejection.

What works the most, however, is the fact that the professional con-artist, Iréne, finds herself being outplayed by the novice, Jean. Whereas she hits snags everywhere, the ex-bartender gets so comfortable that he can do no wrong. Whether getting wealth for himself or having the ability to help her when her troubles deem it necessary, it is the inexperienced one that begins to play the game like a seasoned pro, because he isn’t afraid to leave the life behind for the woman he loves, something so unheard of with that “job” that each time he leaves, Madeleine gives him something even more expensive to keep him around. His oblivious nature is what makes him so irresistible and credit goes to Gad Elmaleh for pulling it off. Always with a smile on his face, enjoying being around Iréne whether it’s in good times or bad, he exudes the feelings that he holds for her in every frame. And his wit is real and refreshing, showing off his conquests as though a child in the playground. Hamming it up for the characters in the film as well as the audience in the theatre, Elmaleh proves that priceless is a relative term and sometimes people need a little time and cajoling to find out what the meaning truly is to them.

Hors de prix 7/10

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photography:
[1] Audrey Tautou as Irene in Samuel Goldwyn Films’ Priceless (2008) Copyright © Samuel Goldwyn Films. All Rights Reserved.
[2] Audrey Tautou as Irene and Gad Elmaleh as Jean in Samuel Goldwyn Films’ Priceless (2008) Copyright © Samuel Goldwyn Films. All Rights Reserved.

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