'Priceless' characters are both aware and deliberate

French film makes no excuses for its gold-digging heroine

Posted: Thursday, June 26, 2008

The perfect frothy fantasy for the obscene wealth gap era, "Priceless" (Hors de Prix) stars a gorgeous, cellophane-thin Audrey Tautou as Irène, a dedicated gold digger who finds herself accidentally mixed up with a penniless bartender.

Courtesy Of Samuel Goldwyn Films
Courtesy Of Samuel Goldwyn Films

Irène's rather arduous profession involves nabbing, milking and holding onto very rich (and usually very old) men for as long as she can. Jean (Gad Elmaleh) is a sad-eyed service serf with the dejected air of a Fellini hero, whom she mistakes for a patron, an error that puts her right back in the poorhouse.

When a twist of fate lands Jean in a relationship similar to the ones to which Irène is accustomed, she gleefully takes him on as a project: the kept man in training.

Though "Priceless" is billed as a re-imagining of "Breakfast at Tiffany's," the film, with its canny, supremely pragmatic heroine knocking against a dreamy romantic hero, is closer to "The Palm Beach Story" and "The Lady Eve."

Director Pierre Salvadori doesn't try to contextualize Irène or make excuses for her. The movie is an altogether more French affair than that. And it's unencumbered by American squeamishness about less-than-innocent women.

As Irène, Tautou is both aware and deliberate. She has no illusions about what she is, and no compunctions either. Any flightiness on her part is strictly a put-on for the benefit of potential suitors, not the audience. Of course, should an American remake be forthcoming, this delightfully adult sensibility will be the first thing to go.

Tautou and Elmaleh make a wonderfully odd couple, a pair of scrappy kids trying to eke out an existence in an impossibly luxurious setting. With their lean, hungry frames (Irène eats ravenously whenever someone else picks up the tab), they're as plucky and resourceful as characters in a Preston Sturges comedy.

A cynic is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing, or so the saying goes, but the unadulterated joy Irène takes in throwing open the closet door to show Jean how this gold digging is done is positively infectious.

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