Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Movie Review: The Girl from Monoco

The Girl from Monoco ***
Directed by: Anne Fontaine.
Written By: Anne Fontaine & Benoît Graffin.
Starring: Fabrice Luchini (Bertrand Beauvois), Roschdy Zem (Christophe Abadi), Louise Bourgoin (Audrey Varella), Stéphane Audran (Édith Lassalle), Gilles Cohen (Louis Lassalle).

The title character of The Girl from Monoco, Audrey (Louise Bourgoin), is not as stupid as she first appears. Yes, she seems like a vacuous, empty headed, but gorgeous, TV weather girls, who doesn’t have much of an education, but she knows who she is, where her talent lies, and what she has to do to get what she wants. So when famous, wealthy lawyer Bertrand Beauvois (Fabrice Luchini) arrives in town to defend a wealthy widow of murder, she sets her sights on him. Because the murder was of a Russian immigrant with ties to the Russian mob, the defendant’s son hires Bertrand a bodyguard - Christophe Abadi (Roschdy Zem) for him. Christophe once dated Audrey, and knows what she is like. He warns Bertrand, but Betrand doesn’t listen. He is on the far end of middle age, and wants to believe that a drop dead gorgeous 20 something year old, who is adventuresome in bed to say the least, could actually fall in love with him, and is not just using him.

Anne Fontaine’s film calls to mind the work of Billy Wilder. There are elements of his comedies like The Apartment, as the movie is quite funny, yet never falls into the standard sitcom like aspects of many American comedies. But there are also elements of Wilder’s early film noirs - where a normal guy gets sucked into danger by a gorgeous, blonde bombshell, and does not realize it until it too late. What makes Fontaine’s film work is that her screenplay concentrates on making her three leads into complete characters, and the three lead actors are all wonderful.

Fabrice Luchini is a veteran French actor, who has worked steadily over the last 40 years. He is not the typical leading man, as he is not one of those men who get better looking with age. Like Wilder’s favorite actor Jack Lemmon, he has an everyman quality to him that makes you instantly believe in him. He becomes increasingly anxious as the movie goes along - he wants to get rid of Audrey, but she has a hold on him that he cannot shake. Roschdy Zem at first seems to be playing a fairly uninteresting character - that of the business as usual bodyguard who is a constant professional. Yet as the movie goes along, he surprisingly becomes the films most interesting character. He starts to care for Bertrand, and knows what Audrey is doing to him. He has an admiration for Bertrand and his career, and feels that it is a honorable profession, and sees Audrey as a roadblock. So no matter what Bertrand does, no matter how he treats him, he will do anything needed to protect him. As for Bourgoin as Audrey, she is simply remarkable. Yes, she is drop dead gorgeous, but her performance goes much deeper than that. She is tired of being a party girl, and sees Bertrand as her ticket out of her life. She manipulates him masterfully, and were it not for Christophe than she may have actually succeeded in her goal. You may not feel much love or sympathy for her character, but Bourgoin makes you understand her character.

I have a problem with the films ending however. I do not believe that Christophe would do what he does in order to protect Bertrand, and even if he would, I certainly do not believe that Bertrand would do what he does when he discovers the truth. For a movie that so carefully observes its characters for most of its running time, this is a major misstep.

But everything that comes before the ending is so good that I still think that The Girl from Monoco is worth seeing. It is uncommon to see a comedy this insightful, and one that observes it characters so closely. So while The Girl from Monoco may not be a great film, it is an interesting one.

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