It's light. It's fizzy. It's intoxicating. Priceless is a French romantic comedy that boasts some of the best attributes of champagne, only without a hangover.
It also doesn't hurt that the movie stars the thoroughly enchanting Audrey Tautou, she of Amélie immortality. She plays Irène, a consummate gold digger who soaks wealthy old men of every last euro before moving on to her next conquest. As the film opens, she is the plaything of a sugar daddy named Jacques (Vernon Dobtcheff), who is treating the waifish beauty to a birthday at a resort along the French Riviera. Alas for Jacques, however, he passes out drunk before any boudoir antics can commence.
A bored Irène slinks into the deserted hotel bar. Through one of those mix-ups that only happen in the movies (and thank God for that), she mistakes a good-natured bartender, Jean (Gad Elmelah), for a multimillionaire. And best of all for her, he is not a geriatric.
Irène sees a potential mark. Jean sees a sexy woman willing to accompany him to one of the hotel's vacant suites. The pair spend the night together. The next morning, Irène continues on her way with Jacques, but poor Jean is hopelessly smitten.
A year later, Jean and Irène have another chance encounter at the hotel, and again they wind up in a bedroom. This time, however, Jacques discovers the infidelity and kicks the woman to the curb. Irène skips off to another town once she learns that Jean is penniless, but the bartender pursues her, determined to spend his life savings if that's what it takes to win her.
But then good fortune comes Jean's way. He is swept up by Madeleine (Marie-Christine Adam), an affluent and well-preserved widow who senses that Jean is down on his luck and subsequently overwhelms him with gifts. Irène is overjoyed to find out that her on-again, off-again suitor has joined the ranks of gold digging, and she resolves to instruct him in the tricks of the trade.
A romcom about money-grubbing prostitutes? You betcha.
Director Pieree Salvadori, who co-wrote the screenplay with Benoît Graffin, fashions a sparkling and sophisticated comedy that merges the effervescence of Breakfast at Tiffany's with the wit and charm of Preston Sturges. Priceless delivers beautiful people, beautiful trinkets and beautiful scenery courtesy the elegant work of cinematographer Gilles Henry. What's not to like?
Moreover, Priceless is unabashedly amoral (gotta love those French). For all intents and purposes, Irène is a hooker, and not necessarily one with one of those ballyhooed hearts of gold. She is unapologetic about her talent for draining rich old coots of their assets, even going so far as to force caviar, which she detests, down her gullet because it's expensive. Jean is more sympathetic a character, but even he willingly uses Madeleine's generosity. And yet the filmmakers keep things delightfully fizzy. Priceless doesn't excuse its protagonists' behavior. Irène and Jean are what they are.
And the actors playing them are wonderful. The gorgeous Audrey Tautau possesses the rarified charisma of superstardom. The screen radiates with her presence (at least I hope that's all it is). The Moroccan-born Elmelah more than holds his own. With his hangdog expression and slightly forlorn acceptance of countless indignities, the actor seems to be channeling the spirit of Buster Keaton.
Presented in widescreen 2.35:1 and enhanced for 16x9 screens, Priceless generally boasts vibrant colors and strong lines, with minor edge enhancement in spots. The only quibble is that flesh tones appear oversaturated in a handful of scenes.
The French-language track is available in Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0. Both are clear and sharp, free from distortion or drop-out. Optional subtitles are in Spanish, English and English for the hearing-impaired.
If you consider a theatrical trailer and a handful of previews -- Transsiberian, Sukiyaki Western Django, War, Inc., Contract Killers and Paris Je T'Aime -- to be extras, then so be it.
Priceless is a sexy and irresistible screwball comedy par excellence. Vive Audrey Tautau! Sadly, the DVD's dearth of bonus material is a real drag, and the only complaint that keeps this reviewer from making a higher recommendation.