Sunday, May 25, 2008

PRICELESS

Pierre Salvadori's social comedy takes place in the off the record, high-dollar world of sugar daddies & sugar mommas, trophy girls & boy toys. It's a strange market of unspoken agreements where trysts take the place of the nodding handshake and $30,000 watches are make-up gifts. Yet emotions still find their way in, and despite the understood lack of true love, a trophy's one-nighter with a younger lover can stamp the contract null and void. Away with the credit cards and caviar. It's a hazard of the trade.

I haven't seen most of Audrey Tautou's films, but Priceless is the first time I've seen her play a vamp. Tautou's setback brown eyes, olive skin, tousled hair, and healthily youthful lips are like the beginner's kit for the entrepreneurial seductive. In a scene where Irene teaches Jean (Gad Elmaleh) about the art of persuasive flirting, she pulls him to his virtual knees like Barbara Stanwyck does Henry Fonda in The Lady Eve. It's no coincidence, and most likely a nod from Salvadori to Preston Sturges. For in that sex-comedy classic Stanwyck also plays a strap-shoe clad killer on the prowl for riches.

Jean is the male equivalent of Irene. Once an honest and reliable hotel worker, he falls penniless after Irene calls his bluff about keeping up with her label loving lifestyle. To survive, he becomes the arm candy of a sixty-year old socialite. Gad Elmaleh was courageous to go up against the physical expressiveness of Tautou, and, arguably, he out charms her. His frowny eyes exist somewhere in-between the lovable dopey-ness of Buster Keaton and Peter Lorre. So much do his sad eyes dominate his face that when he smiles it's a light bulb every time.

Together, Elmaleh and Tautou own the film. In tandem, they rival the team of Daniel Auteuil and Dany Boon in last year's underrated My Best Friend. At one point Jean buys ten seconds of Irene's time with a franc. Twenty-four inches from her face he does nothing but stare. Easy money, true, but this a transaction that most men can understand. A bargain, in fact. I suppose some film goers forked over the $6.75 - $10.00 simply to get in some glances at Audrey Tautou themselves, but by credit roll the inflated pay feels like money well spent.

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