Review: "Priceless"

I'm a big fan of Pierre Salvadori's last film, the vastly overlooked and criminally underrated romantic farce, Après Vous, starring Daniel Auteuil and Sandrine Kiberlain. The film barely made an impression at the American box office, and received a mere 55% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but I loved it.

In fact I very nearly awarded it my Best Foreign Language Film award in 2005, but in the end went with the Palestinian film, Paradise Now, instead.

For Priceless (Hors de Prix), his latest film to make it to American screens, Salvadori tones down the farcical elements of Après Vous for a more sophisticated high-brow romantic comedy. The result is less blatantly funny, but every bit as breezy and light on its feet.

The movie has one major element going for it right up front, and tha
t's the presence of Audrey Tautou. The waifish star of Amélie elevates everything she is in, even The Da Vinci Code, and here her beauty and class brings the film to a whole new level.

Tautou stars as Irene, a beautiful serial gold digger who mistakes Jean (
Gad Elmaleh), a hotel waiter, for a wealthy guest. But after a passionate one night stand, she discovers that he is not who is pretending to be, and decides to leave him, only to discover that she has been caught be her fiance who dumps her and leaves her with nothing. So she heads to Italy to find a new wealthy older man to take care of her. Entranced, Jean pursues her, and Irene decides to show him the ropes of her gold digging ways when he ends up with a wealthy widow (Marie-Christine Adam) of his own. But as the two scheme and live in luxury courtesy of their rich lovers, the two begin to discover that their love for each other is greater than their love of money.

Salvadori maintains a light touch throughout the film, keeping it from straying into clichéd "love overcomes all" territory, and there are enough farcical elements to keep the audience on its toes. The entire film has the feel of an American studio comedy from the 40s - classy, funny, with crisp dialogue and plenty of champagne, but with an unmistakably French sense of humor. The French's sense of comic timing and clever sight gags are impeccable, and the film's opening sequence with Jean walking hotel guests' dogs demonstrates this deft flare for sharp, subtle laughs.

Tautou, for her part, has never been sexier. As I said before she brings an element of class to everything she touches, and here she makes the entire film. Salvadori wisely crafts the film around her, and despite his obvious talent for comedy, without Tautou Priceless would not be nearly the film that it is.

Gad Elmaleh may not have the same comedic presence of Salvadori's Après Vous star Daniel Auteuil (then again, how many people do?), but he brings an awkward shyness, almost as if he is uncomfortable in his own skin, that is perfect for his character.

I was also very impressed with Marie-Christine Adam as the wealthy widow that Jean hooks up with in Italy. She has a regality reminiscent of Lauren Bacall, and a screen presence to match.

All the elements add up to a film that is an utter delight. It's not a perfect film by any means, but Salvadori is quite adept at creating outlandish situations that are kept grounded by likable characters with believable personalities. Priceless is a bubbly, frothy, grandly entertaining romantic comedy as delicious as its champagne tinted cinematography.

GRADE - *** (out of four)

PRICELESS; Directed by Pierre Salvadori; Stars Audrey Tautou, Gad Elmaleh, Marie-Christine Adam, Vernon Dobtcheff, Jacques Spiesser, Annelise Hesme; Rated PG-13 for sexual content including nudity; In French w/English subtitles


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