Sunday, May 25, 2008

Less is more

Leon casino,

In the titles of the films Priceless and Flawless the suffix "less" actually indicates more. For Flawless, a diamond caper set in the early 60s the title suggests construction without fault. Priceless is the American title for a sometimes sly, sometimes warm 2006 French romantic comedy titled Hors de Prix or literally out of price. Hors d'oeuvre (out of work) always springs to mind when I see a title bearing that first word, which after all reminds of the popular slang for appetizers. Priceless, as the title suggest has a true romantic hook that recent films like 27 Dresses or Made of Honor can't snag.
Flawless is helmed by Michael Radford and stars Demi Moore and Michael Caine. Flawless takes a serious view of the economic and social influence of the diamond industry. Set in London the story unfolds with intelligent suspense. A retiring janitor (Michael Caine) joins forces with a glass ceiling diamond executive (Demi Moore) to pull off an almost impossible heist. Yet after the robbery about the midpoint, the film pulls a narrative twist and examines the actual implementation of the heist. The how and why of where the diamonds actually end up flares the tension level to greater heights in the final stretch. Caine and Moore hold the audience captive with their eloquent performances. Radford guides the plot through complex turns as if navigating a murky tunnel that leads to brilliant light. Even while immersed in the caper genre Flawless reveals a wealth of info regarding the way one company holds a monopoly over the diamond industry.
Flawless has a small distributor and is only at one theater but if this was a studio in-house film you would see plenty of media play. Basically I loved the film up to the last few minutes when an epilogue seemed to take the affair in a direction south.
Audrey Tautou has clout among movie goers because of Amelie and Da Vinci Code, movies that a lot of people saw and that established her as smart and sweet. But in Priceless Tautou gets to play a manipulative bitch and that's a good thing. The director, Pierre Salvadori has described Priceless as a re-imagining of Breakfast at Tiffany's. That's also a good thing considering the dated and unintentional racist aspects (Mickey Rooney as an Asian) of Tiffany's, which after all never stated that Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) was a prostitute but rather portrayed her as a sort of trust fund socialite. The George Peppard/gigolo character is mirrored in Gad Elmaleh, an actor blessed with a Buster Keaton countenance that comes in handy when playing sad and mopey.
Tautou isn't exactly a call girl so much as a mistress to very rich men, and Elmaleh an employee at a posh hotel she frequents. After they tango one night she's long gone but his harmless stalker attitude won't let his emotions rest so he pursues her. When all of his money is spent after a couple of days of ritzy pleasure she once again ditches him but not before teaching him enough tricks of her trade to get himself in similar situations with wealthy vacationing femmes.
Priceless works best when Tautou and Elmaleh are slowly falling for one another, and there's good chemistry in their simmering competitiveness. The comic situations, as the title implies, can't be bought. Tautou gets to stare daggers and looks incredible throughout in designer clothes. From the theme music to the clever motif shots involving elevators and hotel rooms there's enough elan on display that Priceless could've been a Blake Edwards film in a previous life.


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