Good Transport

sarris valet3h Good TransportThe Valet
Running time 85 minutes
Directed by Francis Veber
Written by Francis Veber
Starring Daniel Auteuil, Kristin Scott Thomas, Alice Taglioni, Gad Elmaleh

Francis Veber’s The Valet, from his own screenplay, turns out to be a surprisingly satisfying Parisian screen farce, even though it didn’t strike me as wildly funny. Perhaps it isn’t cruel enough to generate wild laughter. Perhaps, as well, the wonderful actor Daniel Auteuil seems to be enjoying himself a little too much playing the consummate villain, Pierre Levasseur, who has too much of his wealth in his wife’s name. And as played by the wondrous Kristin Scott Thomas, Madame Levasseur is clearly nobody’s fool, either—least of all her cheating husband’s. Not that Pierre has bad taste in the mistress he chooses to dally with, stringing her along with the usual moth-eaten promise to divorce his wife once the property arrangements are made final. (Actually, his wife sits on too many boards of directors to be gulled into a cheap settlement.) But the deliciously long-legged model Elena (Alice Taglioni) proves herself nobody’s fool as well when she warns the billionaire that she has run out of patience with his evasions and delays. Enter the sympathetically unassuming loser-hero, François Pignon (Gad Elmaleh), a car valet who works for a fancy restaurant almost at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. One day he is walking to work without a thought in his mind when he passes another fancy restaurant at the precise moment when Pierre is chasing after an angry Elena—much to the delight of a scandal-seeking paparazzo, who snaps a picture with Pierre, Elena and François all caught in the same frame. When the picture hits the front pages and Pierre’s wife demands an explanation, fully intending to take her husband to the cleaners, Pierre insists that Elena was really with François, whom Pierre’s lawyer and trouble-shooter tracks down and offers a deal: If he pretends to be living with Elena, he can name his price. But Elena insists on €20 million to go through with the charade; she will refund the money to Pierre only if he gets his divorce.

To complicate matters further, Pierre’s wife has hired her own private detective to check out her husband’s story. For his part, François is too much in love with the bright and pretty Émilie (Virginie Ledoyen) to make a pass at Elena, even when they share a bed together. Perversely, Émilie is saving money to open her own bookstore, and she is therefore too busy to contemplate marrying François, whom she has known and liked since childhood.

There are the usual complications and subplots with subsidiary characters and their assorted eccentricities. But the only endlessly (and fruitlessly) complicated intrigues are those of the insanely jealous and malignantly manipulative billionaire, Pierre. Hollywood used to be so unrealistically but pleasantly suspicious of people with more money than they needed, and so sympathetic to everyone else. But no more—not really. Indeed, I have not seen so many gracefully nice people on the screen in a long time.