by Elaine Hegwood Bowen
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After chasing this movie at the recent 11th Annual European Union Film Fest at Gene Siskel Film Center with no luck, and also missing a chance to see it in New York, I finally saw Pierre Salvadori’s Priceless (Hors de Prix), and in one word, I declare it worthless!
I mean, what was the point? The French beauty Audrey Tautou, of Dirty Pretty Things and The Da Vinci Code fame, is a wonderful, delightful, engaging actress normally. But I just couldn’t get with the plot of this movie.
I have followed Tautou’s career a bit, since I saw her in Amelie, even renting Happystance and He Loves Me, Loves Me Not. But her playing a call girl, prostitute—okay, I’ll even go former Gov. Spitzer with my description, a high-priced whore—was just too much to imagine.
After running game on older men in Biarritz, France, Tautou’s character Iréne meets a poor hotel bartender/dog walker named Jean (Gad Elmaleh), whom she believes is a millionaire. They meet as he awakes from a nap he’s stolen while on duty late one night at the posh hotel. She’s come down to the bar, because her “meal ticket” has fallen asleep and it’s her birthday. They get drunk, end up in a luxurious suite in the hotel, thereby she thinks Jean is a man of means.
A year later, they run into each other again, as she’s being dangled on the arm of this same older benefactor, Jacques (Vernon Dobtcheff).
She finds out the truth. Jean offers to take her to a cute pizza parlor, but she tries to teach him a lesson, by taking him to an expensive restaurant, to eat lobster and caviar (which she admits she doesn’t like but her profession dictates that she should like it) and drink Taittinger.
They go on a shopping spree, and yet she still wants more stuff! She’s trying to prove to him that he’s wasting precious time and that he can’t afford her.
But, alas, after buying hours of her time, and spending his entire savings, bonds and retirement fund, he’s fallen in love. Consequently, he can’t pay his hotel bill. He finds himself sad and vulnerable and just happens to become “arm candy” for a wealthy widow named Madeleine (Marie-Christine Adam).
What an ironic turn of events—now he’s just as much a gold-digger as Ir?ne.
What ensues in a “best of show” competition, with Irene trying to give Jean “tips of the trade,” so to speak, as they spend time with their respective suitors.
They start comparing their “spoils,” and the entire story just gets boring.
IrŽne teaches Jean how to pout, start sentences as if in desperation to gain sympathy and to break his cheap watch, so his girlfriend can buy him a more expensive one, and the cat and mouse game goes on and on.
After so much playing around, back and forth, with the two of them still trying to sneak and see one another, while yet entertaining their older “John and Jane,” I was like, “enough is enough!”
Eventually, the couple let their hearts overrule their superficial greed, and they chuck it all for love and happiness together.
The film speaks to man’s desire for companionship at any cost, with people selling their integrity and bodies, simply to get a designer dress, diamond-encrusted watch or motor scooter. But in the end the most expensive lesson could be that true love can’t be bought or sold; it’s Priceless!
Elaine Hegwood Bowen is a film critic living in Chicago.
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