Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Hors De Prix

In "Hors De Prix" ("Priceless"), Gad Elmaleh plays Jean, a bartender in a luxury Cote d'Azur hotel. One evening while waiting on a late night hotel guest, Jean accepts the offer of a drink and expensive cigar and falls asleep in the bar. He is discovered, alone, by Irene (Audrey Tautou) who is also staying in the hotel with her lover Jacques(Vernon Dobcheff). Irene mistakes Jean for a millionaire and Jean, after failing to make her realise he is the bartender, plays along with the mistaken identity. They get drunk, she makes a pass at him and they spend the night in the best suite in the hotel, which he has access to. A year later Irene and Jacques are back in the same hotel, Jean still works there and once again Jean pretends to be someone he's not. They end up in the suite again while Jacques is oblivious to what's going on, or so Irene thinks. Of course the truth of his charade, comes out quicker than Jean hopes for. Irene is dumped by Jacques and she takes the train to Nice, spending hours dialling numbers from her address book of potential suitors with whom she has various brief connections with in the past. Jean, love struck, follows Irene to Nice and in the space of one evening she manages to spend Jean's entire life savings. By morning, Jean has transferred all his life's savings, even his pension, to buy mere hours of having Irene in his life. In order to avoid being arrested in the hotel foyer for failing to pay his bill, Jean, somehow, ends up as a gigolo for an older rich socialite, Madeleine (Marie-Christine Adam). "Hors de Prix" is a film I wanted to like but instead it ended up being one of the most depressing films I have seen in a long time. "Hors De Prix" is the arthouse equivalent of a romantic comedy. Or rather what arthouse cinema thinks is a romantic comedy. I am always intrigued by the imagery used in the publicity for movies. The poster above has the tag line; "She only dated men with money...until she met a man with a heart". Four male arms, offering expensive gifts, bribes, surround the elfin Irene. In reality, the two men who supply Irene with the luxuries she desires are, while both fairly decent men, are also Grandfather old and more than just the stereotypical sugar daddy. Irene is described as a gold-digger and opportunist in write ups of the film but what she is simply a prostitute. After Irene makes Jean a pauper, he too becomes one to avoid a prison sentence. Very few of the production photos feature the characters of Jacques or Madeleine, instead centring on the main protagonists of the story. In the photo below, Irene is centre stage while Jacques looks on, blurred in the close distance, in an almost voyeuristic shot. Interestingly, the shot is the same as the poster at the beginning of this article and this one below also erases Jacques to create a specific image. Whereas the imagery of Irene and Jean, as below, is much more romanticised. I watched a review of "Hors de Prix" on the Irish arts and culture TV programme, "The View", where the host John Kelly was obviously a big fan of the beauty of Audrey Tautou and the two male reviewers were also praising the film, it was left to the sole female panellist the journalist Anne-Marie Hourihane to say of Irene and Jean; "They're whores!". If "Hors de Prix" was a mainstream Hollywood film, it would have been torn apart by a panel like this. There has been countless depictions of prostitutes in cinema but I found the characters of Irene and Jean two of the most depressing portrayals I have seen. The earlier scene where Irene finds Jean alone in the bar and he pretends to be a bar man and makes Irene a cocktail was the first moment I knew the film was going to be ridiculous. Irene's character is not a stupid one and the fact that she didn't guess who he was straight away was unbelievable. The sad reality is that bar pursuing rich old men to attain a glamourous lifestyle, Irene has no idea of how to fend for herself. There is an especially sad scene where she ends up locked out of her hotel room, not for the first time, and she sits alone on a deckchair in a sarong and bikini top, freezing and waiting waiting for Jean to, financially, rescue her again. The love, or lust, that Jean has convinced himself that he has for Irene is a very tragic one. Bar her good looks and waif like appearance, there is nothing appealing about her character. Both Irene and Jean are owned by other people, no matter how many mind games they play with them. Both Audrey Tautou and Gad Elmaleh look beautiful in the film, and Marie-Christine Adam has an icy beauty too but the viewer is never in doubt as to who has and has not in the film. Gad Elmaleh in particular has a great movie star look and is of the two leads, the better comedic actor. He was born in Casablanca, Morocco and is well known in France for his film, stage and stand up comedy performances. The film has been compared to classics like "Breakfast at Tiffany's" but while it has touches of the screwball comedies of the 1950's and the 1960's which were set in Europe, it has very little in comparison to Blake Edwards 1961 film "Hors de Prix" was released in the US in March this year and made just $1,500,000 at the box office. It has made $26 million to date worldwide. The trailer is below and the film's French website is here.
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