Hors de prix (Priceless)

Eighty-odd movies to choose from, including Oscar winners, multi-starrers and the like. And what do I pick? A nice little little French rom-com called Hors de prix. That it stars Audrey Tautou might make things easier to understand.

This, however, is no Amelie. Tautou stars as a high-class hooker Irene (I’ve seen the term adventuress used in some blurbs, but I’m not sure what that means) who mistakes Jean (Gad Elmaleh), a waiter at the hotel she’s staying it, for a millionaire. She walks away when she learns that he isn’t, but he’s fallen in love with her and goes after her. Through a series of incidents, he becomes a gigolo, and she trains him in the art of milking his sugar-mommy (does that term exist already? Or do we not discuss gigolos enough for it to have been coined?) to the maximum. That she will end up falling in love with him but would take her time to admit it to herself goes without saying. If it feels vaguely familiar but not quite, think Breakfast at Tiffany’s (the movie, not the book). In all, a predictable but delightful movie.

One interesting difference from the standard rom-coms you get from Hollywood is the sex. Which is to say that there’s quite a bit of it, and not just between the leads. Most rom-coms would’ve found a way of ensuring that the leads don’t sleep with anyone else after they’ve slept with each other. Not this one. Irene even gives Jean seduction tips. I’m not sure if this is because of the “professions” they are in, or because this is a French movie. Maybe a bit of both. Is it just in the movies, or do the French really have this very matter-of-fact way of dealing with sex?

Strangely enough, for the most part, Hors de prix plays like a standard Bollywood movie. Consider this scene: after Irene has discovered Jean’s deception and left him, he pursues her and asks her to spend a day with him. She warns him that he cannot afford her, but he replies that it’s his problem to solve, not hers. To finance her shopping spree (as far as I could discern, in the entire movie, when she’s not earning her keep, she’s spending it), he blows up pretty much every cent he has. When she realizes that he’s broke, she says goodbye, but he stops her, pulls out a 1 Euro coin from his pocket and says, “10 more seconds?” They gaze at each other for 10 seconds, he with a little smile on his face, she with an expression that suggests that she’s falling for this guy but Absolutely Doesn’t Want To. Then she says goodbye. Two things occurred to me when I saw this scene:

  1. Nicely done!
  2. This is the sort of scene SRK dines out on.

I strongly suspect that , in the fullness of time, a version of this movie would appear in Bollywood. Whether or not it would jump through all sorts of hoops trying to evade the sex is the 1 Euro question.

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8 thoughts on “Hors de prix (Priceless)

  1. Sagarika says:

    >>”Is it just in the movies, or do the French really have this very matter-of-fact way of dealing with sex?”

    Both, from what I heard.

    I worked briefly for a French software company (in the Bay Area) and word got around to me that casual sex is considered as matter-of-fact as a cup of coffee in French circles. Not sure if the comment was intended at rousing rabid jealousy among their commitment (and sexual harrasment)conscious American colleagues at work. Might very well have been, given French tolerance levels for American hypocrisy.

  2. I wouldn’t be surprised if they did that just to tweak the Americans a little. For some reason, it reminds me of Kevin Kline and Meg Ryan in French Kiss 🙂

  3. Sagarika says:

    And I’m reminded of “Last Tango in Paris”. 🙂 Talk about “tweak the Americans a little”! That confused French girl/woman…she should have given that American a chance. Ah well, I guess the ending’s what makes Tango an art film as opposed to a commercial (if x-rated) blockbuster.

    Now, speaking of “French Kiss” (I fondly remember the welcome respite the movie brought as I watched it a day before the dreaded compres, back in BITS), I think it was one of the truly brainpower- and artistry-packed rom-com scripts ever written. It seemed like writer Albert Brooks, without working too hard, gave his characters deep, nuanced personalities. I recall the dialogues being seriously witty, downright hilarious (in most instances). Brooks definitely brings a quality to this genre that’s rarely seen these days.

    And while most love-at-first-hate films switch instantly from “love” to “hate” midway through the film, the gradual transition in French Kiss makes us feel that the “love” it arrives at towards the end was actually well-earned. I would go so far as to say that this is the only rom-com in my recent memory where nothing’s superficial and the entire film is absolutely believable.

    Now that you got me started, I simply can’t stop talking about this one. 🙂 Not a huge fan of “Little Miss Duckwalk” Meg Ryan, I absolutely loved her in this movie. And Kevin Kline was brilliant. Their chemistry, unmistakable. Their fights, scathing. Their love scenes, subtle (yet moving). Their comedic timing, perfect. All-in-all, their pairing…spot on. I’ve got to see it again!

    What’s your take on the movie? How about at least a freeze-frame post, on demand? 🙂

  4. I quite like French Kiss, although my admiration for the movie isn’t as much as yours. There is, however, a freeze frame post on it waiting in the wings. Will happen soon.

  5. Sagarika says:

    Ramsu, I just watched “French Kiss” yesterday, for the second time since the last viewing in BITS (about a decade ago). I surprised myself by my reaction this time around. Although I still liked it, I’m no longer willing to rave about it in the manner I did above. My recollection of it was probably tinged with some hopeless romanticism that was the undercurrent of my existence then. Now, that aspect hasn’t changed much but has probably become more refined/subtle…much less overt. Hence, I kinda bit my tongue as I (re)read my comment above and felt I should have held my horses until the second viewing. It’s interesting nonetheless to observe how my perceptions have changed over these years although the movie itself hasn’t. I found myself paying more attention to Kevin Kline now vs. Meg Ryan back then. And the “subtle love scene” I talk about in my comment above is actually non-existent, it seems. But I could’ve sworn that I distinctly recall a scene with them in bed, from my previous viewing (I skimmed thru the DVD menu for extras, deletions, etc. But nada). Did I just make that up or back in BITS, all we got were the uncut versions?

  6. It happens quite often with me. There are movies that haven’t resonated with me on repeat viewings, even though they worked wonderfully the first time around. Sometimes it’s a function of the state of mind. For instance, when I watched Maine Pyaar Kiya for the first time as a pimply-faced adolescent, I was blown away by it. When I watch it now, half the time I’m amused by its heavy-handed dialogue, and half the time I’m amazed at how I could’ve had a crush on Bhagyashree back then.

    French Kiss, like all good Meg Ryan rom-coms (WHMS, You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle) still works for me the way it did when I first saw it. I’m not blown away by it, but my fondness hasn’t diminished.

    As for the “subtle love scenes”, sometimes, even when something isn’t there to see, the mind fills in what it thinks it saw, or wanted to see 🙂

    ~r

  7. Sagarika says:

    Feels wonderful to get that kinda “it’s not just me” vindication! And I actually just doubled over laughing when I read para two of my “French Kiss” rave that goes:
    “I think it was one of the truly brainpower- and artistry-packed rom-com scripts ever written. …Albert Brooks, without working too hard, gave his characters deep, nuanced personalities. … Brooks definitely brings a quality to this genre that’s rarely seen these days.”

    Now what the heck was that? Me trying to come off sounding like a pro reviewer with Ebert-Roeper-like authoritativeness?! Your disclaimer excerpt(below) from Oct.’06 comes pretty close to describing what I was possibly trying to do. 🙂

    “..write anything, make a few literary allusions to prove your erudition to an audience that doesn’t care either way, … Oh yeah, try to make it look a bit technical – add a few references to the screenplay here and there. Junta doesn’t know what a screenplay actually contains, so they’ll think you know what it’s about.”

    Bang-on!

  8. Don’t Panic.

    With most films, I think what we take away from it depends very much on what we bring into it. There are movies I’d rave about that would leave you cold, and vice versa.

    Besides, I still write reviews the same way. Except now, more people know what a screenplay is, so I use terms like “composition” and “quick cuts”. Refer to my recent reviews for details 🙂

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