Hors De Prix may looks very warm, but it is a cold, heartless film in which Audrey Tautou is required to do little other than act as a mannequin, modelling the clothes, bags and shoes of several chic and expensive fashion designers. Translated as Priceless in English, it showcases the exclusive hotels of Nice, Monte Carlo and Biarritz but has nothing of substance to say about the vapid, super rich people it suggests form the vast majority of the crowd that holidays or lives in the region. It’s a film that shrugs its shoulders and asks: “will this do?”
Tautou plays Irène, a gold-digger who hunts for rich old men on the Côte d’Azur in order to spend vast quantities of their money on jewellery, clothing, fine dining and other expensive sundries for herself. She moves from one man to the next, feeding on their desire to be seen with (and to sleep with) someone young and beautiful, until she mistakes hotel barman Jean (Gad Elmaleh) for a rich bachelor and spends the night with him by accident.
A year later they meet again, and Jean continues his pretence of being wealthy in order to keep Irène interested. He runs up a massive debt as a result, and then decides to embark upon his own career as a gigolo, sleeping with old, rich, cougars who seem to spend lots of time and plenty of money in this part of the world. But will Irène and Jean end up with each other? Is The Pope a Catholic? Does a bear shit in the woods? Do androids dream of electric sheep?
This French farce is a love story, of sorts, but disappointingly it contains no love. They may well end up with each other, but Tautou and Elmaleh have as much chemistry as a block of wood and a slice of cheese. Actually no, that’s wrong: they have less chemistry than a block of wood and a slice of cheese. The characters are largely materialistic, and through their attitudes to each other and their actions it’s hard to care about them in the slightest.
Tautou looks great, naturally – she has the kind of star quality that makes her the obvious choice for this kind of Breakfast At Tiffany’s-lite fayre – but director Pierre Salvadori assumes that this is enough in itself to make you warm to her. Sadly, Irène is so unintentionally dislikable Tatou can do little to engender any sympathy for her plight, and as she is locked out of one hotel room after another by rich old men after they have realised the error of their ways it’s hard to feel anything other than “so fucking what?”.
At one point one of her wealthy sponsors asks her in bed whether she has any brothers or sisters. Irène doesn’t respond, and yet remarkably that’s the nearest we get to any back story at all. Elmaleh’s Jean is equally under-developed; he’s a barman, he lives and works in the south of France and … that’s it. He’s also irritatingly vacant, and if anyone is able to decipher whether that is the direction or the actor’s call I’d be interested to hear. Elmaleh wears an expression throughout the film that suggests the lights are on but no-one is dedans; it’s a shame, as he is a pretty good comic actor (he recently appeared in Jerry Seinfeld’s web series Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee).
For a light romantic comedy, there are very few laughs (if any). Sure, the corner of your mouth may rise and fall slightly on one or two occasions, but that’s about it. Salvadori seems to have forgotten about the need for humour and has instead put far too much effort into collating various shots of Tautou lounging by the pool in expensive bikinis, Tautou purchasing blingy earrings, Tautou slipping on shoes that cost more than the average yearly wage earned by 95% of the world’s population, etc. etc.
Even worse than the lack of humour is the fact that the core romance is entirely predictable; I spent the majority of the movie wishing La Hepburn would hurry up and get together with Le Peppard so that I could stick something a little more entertaining on instead. When a kind of declaration of true love eventually does take place (or at least the nearest thing to it in the film) it’s an embarrassing 45 seconds of poor acting before the movie abruptly ends with an oddly ungripping set piece at a toll booth.
I’m not sure whether the point of this film is to make you want to visit or live in the south of France, or – and I’m being incredibly generous here – whether it’s all a knowing joke at the expense of the region. If it is the latter, it’s not a particularly clear commentary and it’s hardly biting satire. On the other hand, if you’re supposed to feel jealous of the wealthy and the way they live / the things they can afford, then the film fails miserably. If it’s a fable promoting the benefits of true love and sacrifice over materialism, it’s so confused in the way it presents its characters that it doesn’t even get that simple clichéd love story right.
And yet … an average IMDB rating of 7.0 out of 10! A Metacritic rating of 72/100! A Rotten Tomatoes rating of 83%! So viewers and critics are – generally speaking – in agreement: this is a good film, and well worth seeing, apparently. Many seem to have praised its use of exotic locations, expensive costumes and the frothy lightness of touch, suggesting that there is much to enjoy if you just let the shiny shiny things and good-looking actress mesmerize you and ignore the fact that it’s utterly hollow, sexist drivel that manages to patronize anyone who happens to either be rich or over the age of 50. Yet ignoring what’s wrong with this film is kind of missing the point, no? I guess I’m a little out of step with received popular wisdom when I suggest that Hors De Prix can best be described as an utterly empty romantic comedy, though at least its takes the bold step of being devoid of any romance … or indeed any comedy.
Directed by: Pierre Salvadori
Written by: Pierre Salvadori, Benoît Graffin
Starring: Audrey Tautou, Gad Elmaleh
Running Time: 104 minutes