Friday, July 3, 2009
For the second time this year a European weather girl is the fulcrum of an odd romantic triangle. First we had Claude Chabrol's "A Girl Cut in Two" and now we have Anne Fontaine's "The Girl From Monaco" (opening July 3 at Landmark's Hillcrest Cinemas). Both films have a vivacious blond weather girl placed between an older and a younger man, and both comment on class and involve a murder.
In the press materials, Fontaine says, the film began with the older male character of Bertrand Beauvois (Fabrice Luchini), a lawyer known for performing miracles in the courtroom. "I began," she says, "by conceiving a character who is under the impression, like many others, that he controls his life." But when he's called to Monaco for the trial of a wealthy woman accused of murder, his life begins to unravel. First, his client (Stéphane Audran in a nearly silent performance that speaks volumes) refuses to say anything in her defense and what little she does say only incriminates her further. Then, since the man she murdered was in the Russian mob, Bertrand is assigned a C.P.A. – a Close Protection Agent. In other words, he has a 24-hour bodyguard following him everywhere he goes, securing the perimeter, and staying within 6 meters of Bertrand. The bodyguard, Christophe (Roschdy Zem), is Bertrand opposite – young, uneducated, sexually assured, and working class. And finally, Bertrand meets up with the wildly ambitious and incredibly sexy Audrey (Louise Bourgoin), who sees Bertrand as her meal ticket out of the weather racket.
Against his better judgment, Bertrand allows himself to believe that Audrey is in love with him. He parties with her, but then is appalled to discover she has slept with many men. But she's a force that he cannot resist and no matter what she does, he keeps going back to her even though she is beginning to prove a distraction from his work. As Christophe grows to admire Bertrand, he also quickly assesses Audrey as a threat. He should know. He had an affair with her a couple years ago. So now the three sides of the romantic triangle are in place but how they play out proves to be a bit of a surprise.
Fontaine plays most of the story for smart laughs. Bertrand, as a well-educated lawyer, loves language and loves to talk and this translates to some witty exchanges and observations. The sense of class is not as pronounced as in the recent Chabrol film and Fontaine doesn't seem interested in lashing out at the bourgeoisie. She presents a rather clever tale bolstered by a trio of strong and effective performances. Luchini is particularly good as Bertrand. He makes Bertrand an oddly appealing character – he's obviously a successful lawyer and a smart man yet he's also vulnerable. He loves to seduce women with language but seems to bolt when there's a chance for physical intimacy. There's a wry quality to his performance that serves the character well as his life spins out of control. Zem provides a good contrast as Christophe, and tries to restore order to Bertrand's life. His rigid adherence to protocol is made amusing yet he grows to become the most admirable character of the bunch. But the unexpected aspect of the film is the close bond that forms between the men. At one point, Bertrand confides in Christophe and gleefully reveals in lengthy and poetic terms the blissful night of sex he's just had with Audrey. But Christophe tersely puts it into perspective by saying, so you got laid. And Betrand has to admit that yes, that was all that really happened. It's a humorous as well as revealing moment between the two men.
As Audrey, Bourgoin cuts an outrageously sexy figure in her impossibly short dresses and low sometimes non-existent necklines. She is not someone who's willing to take no for an answer and that makes her dangerous once she sets her sights on something. At one point Bertrand goes to her apartment to discover a room decked out in pinks and reds and with something of a shrine to Princess Di. Audrey explains that when Diana died, she had a revelation. Here was this woman who had everything and she was dead, and here she was with nothing and alive. At that moment she decided to smile and be the pretty girl and people fell for it. As played by Bourgoin, Audrey is someone who has used her physical assets to get ahead and sees sothing wrong with any of her behavior. The film proves entertaining because the dynamic between Bourgoin and the other two actors is so good.
"The Girl From Monaco" (in French with English subtitles and rated R for some sexual content and language) manages to move confidently between comedy and a noirish thriller. Both aspects work well although the film is neither clever enough nor stylish enough to really dazzle like "Tell No One" recently did.
Companion viewing: "The Girl Cut in Two," "Tell No One," "How I killed My Father"