Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hors de Prix-not so "Priceless"

I’ve had some good encounters with French cinema—mainly quirky romantic comedies along the lines of Amelie, Chocolat, and Jeux d’enfants. So, after a week of viewing experimental films where goat carcasses are dragged in pianos alongside Catholic priests, I figured I’d return to something a little more mainstream. Earlier in the week I saw Espion(s) with my French language class, a supposed spy thriller, but ultimately a film that proved to have no twists, no exciting action or love making scenes, and poor dialogue. Moreover, the plot just seemed to drag on. An aspect the French audience seemed to love or at least endure, but something us Americans couldn’t sit through. A little dejected, I gladly agreed when Heimunn suggested the lighthearted “Hors de Prix,” a romantic comedy starring Audrey Tatou as a gold digging mistress hunting her next wealthy monsieur. The tagline is "She only dated men with money...until she met a man with a heart." In retrospect, maybe not the greatest choice for Valentine’s Day weekend.

The movie starts off by juxtaposing the lives of Irene (Tatou) with that of Jean (Gad Elmaleh). Irene straps on new Chanel shoes, diamond dangly earrings straight from the display window, and stunning dresses that conceal little of her petite build. Meanwhile, Jean walks seven dogs, deals with their self-absorbed owners who seem to think their dogs have more personality than Jean, carries bags as a bellman, and falls asleep at the swanky hotel bar where he works. One evening, Irene wanders downstairs to the bar and mistakes Jean for the wealthy man he was serving, and naturally Jean plays along with the beautiful woman’s supposition. Of course, one morning when Irene and Jean are still wrapped in the sheets of a hotel room Jean only pretends to occupy, the manager of the hotel gives a walking tour of the suite to an American family of five, two parents and three young impressionable boys who gawk at Irene’s compromising situation. To get even, Irene agrees to date Jean, who has fallen for her beauty, by agreeing to have dinner with him while simultaneously emptying out his savings account at what could be a three star Michelin restaurant, chic boutiques, and nothing less than a five star hotel. As Jean (and his bank account) cannot keep up with the charade for long, Irene moves on to her next prosperous beau leaving Jean with nothing but debt.

His solution? Agree when an affluent woman takes him on as her very own young stallion. For the rest of the movie, Irene and Jean cohort behind the backs of their providers to receive the most extravagant gifts. They simply have to stare off in the distance, whisper the magic words “Je voudrais…J’aimerais…” and voila! A diamond studded Rolex. Skipping forward through more unnecessary scenes that the French love to drag on, eventually the two realize their infatuation with one another is worth more than their gifts and escape together on Jean’s motorino (that his sugarmama bought).

All in all, a pretty standard romantic comedy with some rather comedic scenes. Mainly when Jean responds to all the commands of the hotel staff since he is not used to not working. Thus, when he hears someone say pick up bags, he does so at the snap of a hand, and he carries a tray of champagne with agility and grace. One redeeming factor of the film, however, was the stunning costuming and accompanying set design. Each scene was exquisitely designed with decor that matched the clothes the actors were wearing. Furthermore, the lighting of the scene had a wash of the scene’s theme color. For example, in a tranquil scene in the hotel room, Jean wears a light blue chemise, Irene has some blue jewelry on, the vases are a similar pastel hue as the couches, and the light in the room glows with a cyan tint. The blue theme helps to give the scene a relaxed feel that contrasts it to other hide and seek scenes that have more vibrant reds and yellows. Outside of the impeccable detail that pervades throughout the color schemes in each scene, there is little about this movie that is morally or intellectually stimulating, let alone romantic. At the end of the movie, sure, the two lovers ride off into the sunset with nothing more than the clothes on their back. But their clothes are designer and the motorino is pretty chic too. It seems evident they will continue to sell their souls and their bodies to continue on with their lifestyle. But then again, French culture ultimately is about "paraitre" not what happens behind the scenes.

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