In Priceless, a 2008 French film (with English subtitles) by Pierre Salvadori, Audrey Tautou stars as Irene, a gold-digging beauty who mistakes a waiter-cum-bartender, Jean (Gad Elmaleh), for a rich man, only to discover the truth after Jean has happily bedded her twice. Following a brush-off, Irene sees red when Jean inadvertently spoils a gold-digging date she is on, but she gets her revenge. She quickly starts making demands of the waiter which drain him dry of money. It scarcely matters to Jean, however: he now loves the naughty gamine. He also gets his bills paid, mirabile dictu, through becoming the kept man of an older widow played by Marie-Christine Adam, whom he cannot love. He has his eye on Irene–and she on him!
Corruption runs deep in this film and exists mostly within women. Two women, Irene one of them, want to marry money, while another, the widow, supplies gifts to a young man for sex and companionship. It is Jean who is decent in many, though not all, ways. He unselfishly loves Irene even as the latter tries to play her gold-digging game–seemingly–to the end. But fear not: Priceless (or Hors de Prix) is a comedy of reformation–Irene’s. And, no, it’s not a wholly convincing reformation but it will do. It will do because, being a comedy, the film needs a happy ending and because Irene is perspicacious enough to see that Jean is deserving.
Sophisticated comedy (sometimes farce) in French cinema may still be going strong, although I don’t know since most French movies don’t get distributed to the U.S. I do know that the Salvadori film, whose script is by Benoit Graffin and Salvadori himself, is superbly written, with character and plot as its grabbers. It isn’t cerebral at all, but it is honest and truly amusing.
Elmaleh is nearly stolid as Jean but still does well by him: a nearly stolid Jean is okay. Tautou, a good enough comic actress, is as nuanced as she is sensual. She’s triumphing as often as Virginie Ledoyen.