The (ridiculously) beautiful Audrey Tautou plays Irène, a stylish young woman who attaches herself to rich older men in order to keep herself in endless Chanel and Versace gowns. Although her desires are superficial, there are hints that she came from a poor background, and she constantly belittles herself, telling others she has no talents except for conversation, and we begin to see why she pursues money: for security. Aside from the glamour, Irène is deeply unhappy, and unlucky in love, and so we forgive her ‘gold digging’.
That is, until she meets Jean (Gad Elmaleh), a hotel barman/waiter/bell boy whom she mistakes for another rich suitor one night in the empty hotel bar. They share an evening of exotic cocktails and fall for each other, but their romance is doomed by her impending departure, setting up the film for a fairy tale plot.
Elmaleh is excellent as Tautou’s love interest, with his character becoming more established as the film continues: he is treated by those around him as a doormat and walked all over by his colleagues and the hotel guests, including the woman who tries to make him a kept man (Marie-Christine Adam). Old habits die hard, and there are some hilarious instances where Jean forgets where he is, and slips back into his role as a waiter, jumping from his seat in restaurants whenever he hears someone call ‘excuse me’. Elmaleh is entirely charming and endearing in this role, and the viewer really feels for him as he struggles to prove his love to Irène.
As I watched this, I could not help but draw parallels with the stories of F Scott Fitzgerald, in which characters exist in a dream-like night-time world, caring only for parties and glamour, without noticing the unhappiness below the beautiful surface. Although Priceless has no pretensions about a moral lesson, there is clearly a message about class divides, and the super-rich are portrayed as deeply sad despite their wealth and success.
The supporting cast are also entertaining, with Jacques Spiesser as Gilles being almost endearing as he dotes over Irene, and Marie-Christine Adam as Madeleine, as Jean’s older woman, expertly manipulated by his sorrowful glances and unfinished sentences.
The film is packed with glamorous locations, stunning dresses and beautiful jewellery, however, the central couple are the clear stars, and Tautou and Elmaleh have brilliant on-screen chemistry, as well as an interesting dynamic to their relationship: she is clearly in charge, after a lifetime of being wined and dined by France’s elite, yet she falls for Jean’s shy, humble personality, realising that they are actually very similar, and manage to exist on equal terms.
Priceless is a delightful little Cinderella-tale, oozing with French chic, classic comedy, and an elegant performance from Tautou, making this a pleasure to watch. Although predictable, I thoroughly enjoyed the journey of the story, and commend Pierre Salvadori for an original take on a traditional narrative.