Astounding French actress Audrey Tautou has shown that she's quite the chameleon with her graceful quirky demeanor, showcasing Amelie as an obvious pinnacle for her style. She's also melded to other harder-edged roles like Frears' Dirty Pretty Things and Jeunet's other understated tour de force, A Very Long Engagement, which both prove that she's got a knack for blending beauty and eccentricity in an entrancingly odd light. But all that's not what Priceless (Hors du Prix) is all about; Tautou's able to let her hair down and elegantly tip-toe around director Pierre Salvadori's flippant environment, and it's all the better for her radiant presence.
Priceless breathes with the essence of classic '50s situational comedies and Peter Sellers' Pink Panther style slapstick mannerisms. Our main male lead in this scenario is Jean (Gad Elmaleh, La Doublure) , a lowly hotel jack-of-all-trades who gathers towels and walks dogs for the upscale resort denizens by day, while mixing together cocktails for those rich socialites by night. One particular evening, he winds up making a drink for a spurned, money-grubbing golddigger named Irene (Audrey Tautou, The Da Vinci Code) as she saunters to the bar for a cap to the night of her birthday. Here's the catch: in this particular setting under these conditions -- with Jean in tuxedo -- she confuses him for a wealthy hotel patron and, in a whirlwind of alcohol, confusion, and a bouquet of feelings, winds up spending the evening with him.
And it'll all happen again, one year after their initial encounter -- relying this time on intent and familiarity, along with the screwed-up dynamic that demands Jean to be rich and Irene to actually be enamored. But the second time, true colors begin to really show through in both that leads to the exposition of everyone's dirty laundry. As shown by Irene's quick jolt from her sleeping state after their second evening together, something we see Jean do a year beforehand, it's pretty obvious that the tables will be completely turned and the pâté will hit the fan pretty quick.
This becomes the grand shift in Priceless, where everything flips over to an opposing dynamic that leaves us feeling a little like a turned hourglass. In that, it's not unlike the Dan Aykroyd-Eddie Murphy vehicle, Trading Places; Jean, once looked at as a rich guest in his hotel, quickly becomes the scum underneath Irene's thousand-dollar shoes who simply cannot afford her. In turn, the introductory Irene played up by Tautou's inherent charm quickly becomes a hapless woman scorned and thirsty for the life of wealth that she can't find with any of her other "benefactors" (read: men that she gives herself to for security). But it's her job, and she's resolute on that.
Though snake-like shrewdness and unabashed implications regarding their "return payment" to their caretakers becomes a heartbreakingly hollow cornerstone, Priceless takes the callous path by having an outlandish, silly blast transforming the characters into leeches right before our eyes -- along with an added dash of discovery and character elucidation. A bubbly sort of deadpan wittiness arises when Jean has the opportunity to become a man version of the same kind of "trophy" that Irene has played out her entire life. Once they both find themselves in the exact same situation, inside the exact same hotel in adjacent rooms, the true situational punch within Priceless starts to kick in -- transforming the once lovers / once fighters into awkwardly-matched gal-pals. Some of it plays out like a well-rehearsed sketch on a variety show, while the rest carries a certain practical magnetism that makes the film feel real in spots. No matter which cute little personality takes the wheel, Salvadori's comedy floats on both easygoing charm and unavoidable laughs.
Ah, but the dynamic created within Priceless couldn't exist without Audrey Tautou and her pseudo-symbiotic yang, Gad Elmaleh, as their rapport changes with the wind. At first, its lust at first sight, then slowly builds to butterfly-worthy fondness -- perfect for the romantic viewer from the start. This quickly pivots into a female-dominant structure and tutelage with a mousy little lovestruck vagabond as its final effort, all of which Tautou and Elmaleh mold to and flap with like flags in the wind. It's not that they really soak into Irene and Jean, but more that they have such a great time interplaying with each other that their enthusiasm flows over to their audience. They make a great team, showing the obvious dominant / submissive nature to their balance while allowing flickers of strength to poke through with Jean and glimmers of starry-eyed whimsy in Irene.
All along the way, Priceless possesses a discreet romantic streak that stretches out a mile wide -- even after the unappeasable chaos they both endure. While having fun poking at Jean's unfortunate fumbles with money and Irene's inability to see passed financial security, a subtle, graceful romanticism laces their interactions in a way that hints at an even grander play in masking their true selves from a happenstance world. Luck's not on their side, as we clearly see, but everything eventually comes full circle. This becomes the true anchor that keeps Priceless, as well as our perception of the entire situation, grounded. We share some laughs and have a grand, silly old time with two smitten, confused characters dancing around each other in a comedic chicken dance highlighted by flying jewelry, late-night zipping scooters, and early morning room service -- but we know what's really going on.
First Look Pictures offers up Priceless with a nice 2.35:1 widescreen image enhanced for 16x9 televisions. It's an attractive image, rich with vibrant colors and solid concentration on minor details. Little knick-knacks, like the rope on Audrey dress, the numerous bottles behind Jean at the bar, and the grains of metallic texture on dumbbells later in the film, pop with plenty of minor detail competence. However, like with a few of First Run's recent transfers such as War Inc., there's a fair amount of ghosting apparent during scenes with higher levels of activity. Outside of that, everything else looks pretty darn good -- nearly edge-enhancement free and highly capable of rendering low-pixelation coloring.
Priceless is, to be expected, highly dialogue-driven, which carries over to its French Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. But there's plenty of support for the bouncy verbose, supporting spoken audibility with plenty of robustness. Musical cues trickle to the rear channels, along with a few select environment renders -- including some clever usage of scooter sound bites that trail diagonally with surprisingly breadth -- that give the audio track at least a flicker of multidimensionality. Priceless' aural track offers exactly what you need for the film, with a few added earmarks to make it just a step above convention. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are available to accompany the French 5.1 and 2.0 tracks.
Good thing the film is priceless, because it'll have to speak for itself following a complete lack of supplements -- outside of a few Previews that DOES include an anamorphic Priceless trailer.
It's great to see Audrey Tautou embrace a graceful, debutante role in Priceless that deviates a bit from her regular offerings. The comedic rhythm in this hotel-hopping, blood-sucker comedy supports her character's pristine nature with near flawlessness, crafting a lighthearted yet sharp environment plush with humor. Tautou and Gad Elmaleh's vehicle takes quite a few jerky twists and turns as they play off of each other's developing vanity and thirst for wealth, but it comes front-loaded with heart and warmth begging to pop from its simmering nature. First Run's presentation for Priceless offers a strongly Recommended package for that'll satisfy lovers of either French-style or Old Hollywood slapstick situational comedy. Fans of Tautou, especially, really shouldn't miss this outing.