I first saw Audrey Tautou, like everyone else, in the phenomenally successful French comedy Amèlie. I decided, however, that I had had enough of her after that film's relentless exploitation of her adorability, complete with "Love me! Love me!" mugging for the camera. But then, I failed to see the charm in Julia Roberts' virginal prostitute in Pretty Woman. (But I was so much older then.)
Nothing could make me see Tautou's Hollywood debut in The Da Vinci Code, but her new film Priceless—and it is her film, despite the appealing presence of co-star Gad Elmaleh—has me in a long-delayed swoon over this 30-something pixie. The sculpted cheekbones, the dark eyes, the button nose, the heavy eyebrows! And, on the Internet, I learn her favorite poets are Baudelaire and Tzara, and her favorite painters include Manet and Delacroix. ...
Pierre Salvadori's Priceless is pure, unadulterated fluff, but it's gloriously well-crafted fluff. And it's fluff that depends entirely on the extraordinary charm of its leading lady. The script, classically constructed as it is, simply wouldn't work otherwise, because the character, Irène, is a professional gold digger who trolls the French Riviera in search of wealthy old men—preferably ones who fall asleep early in the evening. On one such night, she slips away from her drowsy sugar daddy and mistakes the hotel bartender Jean (Elmaleh) for a young and wealthy suitor. Jean, of course, doesn't correct the error, and the two get drunk and sleep together in the hotel's penthouse suite, courtesy of Jean's master key.
When we first meet Jean, he's snapping his heels and attending to every whim of his hotel's pampered clientele. After his get-really-lucky night, however, something changes in him—he sees that there might be more to life than toting luggage and walking dogs. When his fling with Irène sabotages her engagement to a millionaire—leaving her penniless and at square one—he persists in wooing her with guileless dedication. And it's here, in the opening act of the film, that our patience is tested, as the angry Irène coldly and unapologetically milks poor Jean's savings. He's happy to spend every last euro, however, for the privilege of a few more moments with her. Few actresses could sustain audience goodwill through such scenes, but Tautou is one of them.
The worm begins to turn when Jean, finally broke and humiliated, discovers that he, too, can be a gold digger when he attracts the attention of a wealthy older woman. What follows isn't very deep, but it's a well-crafted romance that takes a surprisingly benign look at the folkways of the European elite. There's a Sex in the City-like wallow in material pleasures: In addition to the Hermès scarves and Gucci handbags, the film's key bauble is a gem-encrusted Jaeger LeCoultre wristwatch—the rich man's Rolex. Priceless suggests we could all benefit from learning to hustle, and like any good star-driven fantasy, we believe it could be true. —David Fellerath
Priceless opens Friday in select theaters.
If only pretty pictures were necessary to make a good movie, The Fall would be the Citizen Kane of our era.
No sentient being should ever compare Orson Welles to former music video director Tarsem Singh. Tarsem (as he prefers to be called) self-financed the follow-up to his 2000 film The Cell and shot it sporadically in 18 countries over four years, thus evoking Welles' quixotic latter days as a vagabond auteur traversing Europe, cobbling together cameo acting gigs and wine commercials to finance a few more bits of his own films. And, like Welles' hopelessly doomed attempt to equal the expectations generated by Citizen Kane, Tarsem's nascent feature-film career is already shackled to surpassing the flash-in-the-pan brilliance of his 1991 music video for R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion."
Make no mistake—you will rarely see a film as visually arresting as The Fall, which is replete with wide-angle landscapes of South American jungles, ancient Chinese cities, bright-orange deserts, aquamarine seas and cobalt-lacquered villages. Even the opening credits sequence, which details in slow motion a rescue mission extending from atop a railroad trestle—is the most pristine black-and-white footage since the Polish Brothers' Northfork.
There are also unending visual motifs involving swimming elephants, exotic butterflies, locomotives, oranges and dentures, all serving a would-be child's fable that is really a phantasmagoria of pretentiousness. Set in a Los Angeles hospital circa 1915, a 5-year-old girl named Alexandria (Romanian newcomer Catinca Untaru) is recovering from a broken collarbone when she meets lonely Roy Walker (Lee Pace, TV's Pushing Daisies), a silent-movie stunt man convalescing from severe leg injuries.
Roy begins spinning a fantastic yarn for Alexandria in a convoluted effort to eventually coax her into pilfering enough morphine so he can kill himself. The story's professed framework is Roy's personal life and is populated by characters—such as a freed slave, an Indian warrior and a young Charles Darwin—played by people in the hospital and Roy's life, a la The Wizard of Oz.
If only The Fall were even that simple. A surrealist fever dream, influenced by Dali, Jodorowsky, et al, masks an incomprehensible storyline divorced from both reality and genuine emotion (unlike, for example, Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth, another fantasy dreamscape generated by a young girl's imagination and despair). Beyond its rank illogic, the performances are amateurish, particularly that of Untaru, who did not speak English when shooting originally started—and apparently still doesn't.
Highbrow cinephiles may wax poetic about Tarsem's daring personal vision and audacious rendering of the symbiotic relationship between storyteller and listener, or—as elucidated during the film's mildly sublime final sequence—between filmmaker and audience. Frankly, The Fall is tailor-made for armchair aesthetes who gape at a canvas smeared with dung and then breathlessly brood over the life force of the animal that shat it. —Neil Morris
The Fall opens Friday in select theaters.