Can’t Buy Me Love

sarris samuel goldwyn fil Can’t Buy Me LovePRICELESS (HORS DE PRIX)
Running time 104 minutes
Written by Pierre Salvadori and Benoit Graffin
Directed by Pierre Salvadori
Starring Audrey Tautou, Gad Elmaleh, Marie-Christine Adam

Pierre Salvadori’s Priceless (Hors de Prix), from a screenplay (in French with English subtitles) by Mr. Salvadori and Benoit Graffin, has been heralded as a French box office hit, which suggests that the French have become as corrupt and materialistic as some commentators insist that we are. Indeed, Priceless turns out to be a curiously immoral light comedy in which both the heroine and the hero take turns being kept by rich patrons of the opposite sex just so a waiter can pursue his love affair with a professional temptress in the luxurious style to which they both have become addicted. We have come a long way from It Happened One Night (1934) or even from Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). Pretty Woman (1990) is a closer fit with its post-Production Code whitewashing, or, rather, bubble-bathing, of a street-corner prostitute into a winsomely vulnerable ingénue. (I’m talking about movies, of course, not current headlines.) Up till now, the ingénue could be as flirtatious as she wanted, but she couldn’t make her living by bedding and bilking rich older men. Audrey Tautou has remained a kooky ingénue ever since she broke out on the international scene in Amélie in 2001, and her partner here, Gad Elmaleh, amused us with his deadpan Buster Keatonish antics as the innocent in The Valet (2006).

The conceit of Priceless is that Ms. Tautou’s Irène leaves her sleepy older lover in bed alone to visit the luxury bar for some “fun.” There she somehow mistakes a sleeping off-duty waiter for a millionaire. The waiter, Mr. Elmaleh’s Jean, keeps the misunderstanding alive by pretending an empty honeymoon suite in the hotel is really his room. When Irène discovers her mistake the next morning, she tells Jean to get lost, but he has fallen madly in love with her, and is determined to stay near her even if it means serving as a gigolo at the beck and call of an attractive but imperious older woman, Madeleine (Marie-Christine Adam). In the course of his furtive courtship of Irène, and her gradually and finally falling in love with him, there are many embarrassing mix-ups for the lovers—and, strangely, for us in the audience, as we almost in spite of ourselves start rooting for these two cheats to get away with as much ill-gotten loot from their gullible patrons as they can. Yet in the end they go off into the future, like the love-over-money sweethearts of old Hollywood comedies, without a euro between them. In this later context, I really worried about how they would be able to renounce all the luxury they had enjoyed. As a result, I never found any of the proceedings at all funny for a closet materialist like me.