Director: Pierre Salvadori
Starring: Audrey Tatou, Gad Elmaleh
UK Release date: 13 June 2008
Certificate: 12A (104 mins)
‘Priceless’ may be only one possible translation of ‘Hors de Prix’, the title of this film, but know that the film is in French, something only discovered at the last moment by some cinema-goers with whom I saw it – leading to at least one couple walking out!
It starts with common ground for the French and British, with the barman (Jean, played by Gad Elmaleh) given the job of walking the dogs of the hotel’s rich clientele. Along with the Italians, we all love our pet dogs and so a little excess lavished upon them is rather endearing. Irene (Audrey Tatou) is well versed in getting what she wants lavished upon her by latching onto wealthy older men. It is only by mistake that she stumbles on the barman, tired out from a long day walking the dogs, mixing drinks and keeping the guests happy. She mistakes him for another rich possibility to seduce and, having immediately fallen for her, Jean is not inclined to explain otherwise. The plot is launched and thickens only slightly, a mix of ‘What the Butler Saw’ and French farce!
The comic element mixed with the pathetic is pursued a year later, when Irene returns with her elderly sponsor and Jean tries to keep up the façade of being the wealthy tycoon. When rumbled for what she is by her ‘old man’, Irene ends up full-time with Jean. Jean, of course, cannot fulfil her expectations and, after following her to Nice and spending all his savings on her, he offers his last euro for ten seconds more to look at her. Just previously she had answered what we might dare to take as a more profound question, ‘What do you want?’, with firstly ‘a handbag’ and then ‘a dress’! The one euro just for ten seconds’ more time might sound romantic until we find Jean embracing the pragmatic as he finds himself picked up as a ‘toy boy’. Thus he has someone to pay off his hotel bill and even stay on in the same place (it is filmed in Monaco).
Going by the maxim that most film themes are about salvation or the lack of it, the inevitable will happen in this one. For the moment, we now find Jean’s immediate saviour in his older woman. Irene is happy to have a kindred spirit in her profession and obliges by teaching him her tricks of the trade. Crassly the tricks seem to be the same for men as for women! She teaches him ‘to see through the feminine mystique’. The start of a real world nearly breaks in when the pair, Jean and Irene, take off by scooter to enjoy dinner on the beach one night. The cool light of dawn awakens the realisation in Irene of some deeper feeling for Jean.
The denouement comes as her elderly partner is about to whisk her off to faraway places. One last party scene at which Irene declares to Jean that ‘he is a real prince’, a bit of shenanigans to extract themselves from their respective ‘sugar parents’ and, well … you can see the film yourself. Tatou cannot quite convincingly carry off the more fatale side of the femme. It does have some laughs, with the best scene coming with now inducted ‘call-man’, Jean, making a spoof phone call to the sugar daddy of his tutor, Irene, to give the hotel’s latest offers in how to conserve his health and performance!
The theme may sound rather quaint and even romantic. However, like ‘Pretty Woman’, if it showed a bit more realistically the seamy side of the lives of self-employed call-girls and gigolos, it might then also show a bit more realistically the romance of getting away from that life. If the high life of people who cannot make any dent in their resources by buying whatever comes to mind is portrayed as a source of amusement, then the romantic side of being saved from it will mean nothing much. Irene is saved by her prince, but she was having quite a good time anyway and he mucked it up!