Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hors de Prix: the Art of Gold Digging

I LOVE romantic comedies. Sure, I can appreciate an epic dramatic masterpiece or a good quirky independent film; but at the end of the day, nothing makes me happier than a good old chickflick, where the guy finally gets the girl and everything ends happily ever after. Hors de Prix, or 'Priceless', is exactly that.

The charming Audrey Tautou stars in this updated French version of 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' as the gold digger, working her way across the Côte d'Azur through a series of sugar daddies in luxurious hotels to finance her extravagant lifestyle. Her materialistic lifestyle revolves around champagne, caviar, and the latest designer dress, and could not be more different from that of Jean's, played by comedian Gad Elmaleh, a shy and slightly dopey-looking waiter working at one of these grand hotels. Irène mistakes him to be a millionaire and seduces him, and beats a hasty retreat upon discovering the truth. The smitten and lovestruck Jean follows her around the Riviera, and tries to woo her by spending all his savings on trying to keep Irène in the lifestyle to which she had become accustomed to.

The movie takes on an interesting twist when the tables are turned and Jean finds himself taken in as the boytoy of a wealthy widow, Madeleine, and is surprisingly adept at Irène's trade. He and Irène become equals, with Irène teaching Jean the "tricks of their trade." Though they become closer emotionally they are kept apart physically due to their circumstances, with Irène unwilling to give up her lifestyle and Jean unwilling to give up Irène.

While there was a never a doubt about how the movie would end, the director Pierre Salvadori manages to keep the movie light and refreshing. The actors' performances are fantastic and they seem extremely comfortable in their roles, creating loveable characters who would seem despicable on paper. Tautou charms the audience into sympathizing with Irène despite her selfish and scheming ways, then magically transforms before us into the insightful soul who is finally able to follow her heart and ride off into the sunset with the penniless Jean. Likewise, despite being consistently out of his league, Elmaleh's facial expressions, deadpan demeanour and incredible sense of comic timing renders the audience helplessly empathetic to Jean's plight. With his hangdog dog expression and blatant longing for Irène, Elmaleh creates a loveable and delightful Jean. One of the frequently repeated scenarios in the movie is where Jean, not used to being on the receiving end of the hotel service, automatically picks up other people's orders, or carries other people's bags for them. Elmaleh carries this off with a blank-faced vulnerability that you cannot help but laugh.


The French Riviera is almost a third character in the movie, with endless shots of the beautiful skylines, the crystal clear waters, the stunning beaches, the gorgeous women and the luxuirious hotels. The background mimics the sunny spirit and feathery tone of the film. In addition, Tautou's wardrobe is exquisite, as she wears one sensational designer dress after another. One of my favourite scenes in the movie is where Irène has commandeered Jean's credit card and starts ripping off the price tags of her purchases: Chanel, Hermès, Gucci. 600 Euro, 1500 Euro, 750 Euro. While this sort of behaviour may be the norm on the Côte d'Azur, Elmaleh's stunned expression perfectly describes the striking contrast between this extravagant lifestyle of the wealthy and his own meager way of life.


With the cinematography and under Salvadori's direction, the film glides easily and we are encouraged to see the characters in the best possible light. The story itself may not be all that French or all that unique - I could easily see this same movie being reproduced in Hollywood - but something about the sense of humor and the effortless ease of the actors keep the film refreshing and different. I can't imagine the dialogue or breezy romance would translate well into a Hollywood romcom, which would simply come off as cheesy or even nauseating. In fact, it is interesting to note that the material could have easily presented the main characters as cruel and mean-spirited, manipulative and sleazy as they sell their "company" for a fabulous lifestyle, but the French humor throughout, and the understated sexiness which the French can muster up even without gratuitous sex scenes, keep the mood upbeat and uncomplicated. Hors de Prix may be your typical romantic comedy, but its irreplicable French sense of frivolity and lightness give the film a certain Je ne sais quoi, a delightful and charming flair.

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