The Cost of Comfort 

France's Priceless crashes the Sex and the City party

If the good folks of Boise are still flocking to try to catch a bit of the glamour that a former HBO show lends to the big screen, they are at the wrong movie.

If excess is your vice of choice, Priceless, the newest film from director Pierre Salvadori, should be on the menu. This delightful piece of French confectionery doesn't rely on name-dropping fashionistas to create an atmosphere of luxury, but allows its locations and designs to speak for themselves.

Set in the French Riviera, the film takes a lighthearted look at the sordid lives of gigolos and high-class escorts. Audrey Tautou, whose work in Amelie cemented her status as the new French "It" girl, stars as Irene, a sweet but worldly gold-digger who mistakes overworked hotel bartender Jean (Gad Elmaleh) for a wealthy playboy. After a brief fling fueled by boredom, she returns to her elderly suitor whose promises of marriage offer her security but not love. One year later, she again crosses Jean's path, but this time their ill-timed tryst is interrupted, and both find themselves out on the street. Jean with his working-class skills, and Irene with nothing but her little black book and gift for conversation.

Using this talent, Irene quickly picks up with another wealthy benefactor, but her efforts are hampered by the twitterpated Jean, whose hangdog affections lead him to follow her to Nice. Broke and destitute, he is mistaken for an escort by a recent widow (Marie-Christine Adam), and a friendly but competitive game of one-upmanship ensues between Jean and Irene to see who can accrue the most baubles. Like true professionals, they share techniques and war stories, all the while unaware that underneath their gilded charade, she is slowly growing attached to him. Jean begins to excel in the art of mooching, and when another of Irene's prospects goes awry, he uses his newly discovered talents to help her stay afloat. But attachment and love are two blessings that are liabilities in this line of work, and both Jean and Irene must decide whether they are willing to give up their comfortable lifestyles in order to be together.

All this rigmarole plays out pleasantly, aided by the stunning scenery and sharp performances. Elmaleh was voted "la personnalite la plus drole de France" (Funniest Person in France) last year, and his slow transformation from uptight working man to high-class charmer is accomplished with grace and believability. Not a handsome man, his everyman likability and clever mannerisms eventually render him attractive. But the show truly belongs to Tautou, whose Irene is capricious, sometimes cruel and always captivating.

Tautou has made a career of playing ingenues, the innocent girl whose journey of self-discovery turns the plot. Her portrayal of Irene retains some of this wide-eyed naivete, but underneath it is a calculating mind that understands the consequences of her actions. There's a telling scene early in the film in which Irene orders caviar, not because she enjoys the taste, but because she believes that she should. "One day I'll get to like it," she tells the smitten Jean. "I'm sure when you like it, it must be delicious." The same is true of her lifestyle. The characters are all aware that their relationships are a pretense, but their need for security, whether it be emotional or financial, outweighs their moral reservations.

But comedy is no place for prolonged serious musings, and the film cheerfully skips over these misgivings. Salvadori sets a brisk pace for the film, which clocks in at just over an hour and a half. Possessing a deft eye, his flair for color and comedic timing allows the movie to stay buoyant, and adds in cinematic grace notes rarely seen in American film. Cocktail umbrellas quickly come to symbolize hanky-panky, and there's a clever thematic thread in which objects are literally thrown in Jean's face. The playfulness and energy of the film keeps it light, while the gorgeous settings and tempting fashions create an inviting atmosphere of opulence that sparks off the screen.

Priceless is being touted as the French response to Breakfast at Tiffany's, but Irene is a different creature from the iconic Holly Golightly. The difference between socialite and social-climber is found in intentions. Holly is an innocent, and her beauty and naivete are her ticket to high society. Irene is putting on a farce, using these supposed charms to gain favors. But they share a penchant for the finer things in life, and it is the spectacle of the well-to-do that draws viewers to this type of film.

Ultimately, the advantage that this film has over its New York rival is language. If you've been looking for a guilty-pleasure film with beautiful women in stunning gowns, the fluff that you'll be required to swallow is much more palatable in French.

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