Priceless (Hors de Prix)

Irene (Audrey Tautou) is the most adorable gold digger who ever worked France’s luxury hotels. She has luscious come-hither chocolate eyes and a mane of delightfully disheveled hair. She’s flirty and girlie and wears dresses so precariously draped that it’s a miracle her upper torso is not popping out with every languorous step. Oh, oui, Audrey Tautou is tres cute. She was irresistible in Amelie (2001), and American audiences got to know her as the enigmatic descendant of Mary Magdalene in The DaVinci Code (2006). In Priceless, rich old French men adore Irene’s winning ways–until they find out that fidelity is not in her repertoire of tricks.

While trying to head her latest sugar daddy to the altar, Irene meets Jean, a meek, unassuming waiter in the hotel bar, played by Moroccan-born Gad Elmaleh. She mistakes Jean’s work uniform for a gadabout’s evening attire, assumes he’s loaded to the hilt, and decides he could be as cute as she is. (Here Irene and I disagree. I found Jean to be pretty boring actually, so I thought their romance was unbelievable. I seem to be in the minority–Priceless has gotten many rave reviews.)

Impressed by Jean’s ability to mix a mean martini (he was subbing for the bartender), Irene kisses Jean passionately, drives him wild, and he swipes a hotel key in order to spend the night with her in the Presidential suite. Alas, Irene’s boyfriend finds out and locks her out of his suite. Poor Irene. Homeless and broke again. But ever plucky and always adorable, she gets back to work and heads for pastures with more greenbacks. A year later, Irene returns to the hotel with her latest wealthy paramour. Of course, she and Jean pick up where they left off. This time Jean pretends he has the money to afford Irene–and in one wild afternoon of wooing by shopping, he wipes out his life savings on her.

Broke himself now, Jean becomes the boy toy of a rich widow named Madeleine. Here’s where everything gets giggly, with the two young lovers trying to be with one another–and still keep their patrons. Ah, love, money, sex and con games as only the French can do them! Moroccan-born director Pierre Salvadori (Apres Vous) proves again that in his hands morality flies merrily out the window and everything’s fair and more fun under the sun-drenched skies of southern France.

As entertaining as the young lovers are, the most compelling character in Priceless is the widow Madeleine, played to sophisticated perfection by Anne-Christine Adam. With no allusions about men any more, she faces love, or the lack of it, head-on with dignity and high style. I got tired of the frolicking youngsters after a while and kept wishing that the story would take a detour and have Madeleine connect with one of Irene’s former lovers. After all, in France, Madeleine would be considered enormously desirable by most men, not just for her money, but for her mature mysteriousness.

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