Dir: Anne Fontaine. France, 2008. 95 mins.
Anne Fontaine moves a step away from the subtle ambiguities of her best films (Dry Cleaning, How I Killed My Father) and edges ever closer to commercial success with La fille de Monaco, a summer sex comedy/courtroom drama with a sunny Riviera backdrop. Due to hit Paris screens on August 20, it may drive another wedge between Fontaine and the critics who once admired her, but thanks to superb performances from Fabrice Luchini as a smooth-talking lawyer and Roschdy Zem as his taciturn bodyguard, La Fille de Monaco should score with audiences across Europe.
And that’s good news indeed for the backers of Fontaine’s upcoming $22m Coco Avant Chanel biopic with Audrey Tatou, being produced, like this, by Philippe Carcassone.
Edith Lasalle (a powerful, minimalist turn from Stephane Audran) is accused of murdering her young lover. She refuses to defend herself or explain her conduct, so her son Louis (Cohen) hires the best legal mind he can find, Bertrand Beauvais (Luchini) to come from Paris to Monte Carlo and defend his mother in court. As the victim was of Russian origins with a whiff of organised crime about the whole affair, a bodyguard, Christophe (Zem), is hired to keep the master out of harm’s way.
But the real threat to Bertrand is actually posed by sexy blonde weather girl Audrey (Louise Bourgoin, a real-life weather girl on Canal Plus before this) whose readily-available charms drive all caution from the great man’s mind. Careful in the past never to commit himself, Bertrand is breathlessly rushed through the Kama Sutra - too fast to suspect that he is being manipulated by a young woman who sees him as a meal ticket.
Luckily for Fontaine, her two male stars expertly overcome the limitations of La Fille de Monaco’s one-dimensional script, making the best of every line and joke they are handed, even when it’s completely over-stretched. Luchini, who could read the phone directory and make it sound exciting, has completely nailed the soft-skinned, flabby, middle-aged lawyer who hides his hang-ups behind a barrage of verbiage.
Zem, whose physical presence has been a major asset in every role he has played, may present a tough, unbending exterior, but underneath, there is a touch of vulnerability which ads a new dimension to the character. Watching these two work together is a real pleasure.
Bourgoin is more of a problem; physically she fits the bill, but she lacks the extra zing of the stars she tries to emulate (Bardot or Monroe) and she certainly lacks the depth Ludivine Seignier brought to a similar part (also a weather girl) in Claude Chabrol’s recent The Girl Cut In Two - it seems the profession is a byword for being cute, smart and breathtakingly ambitious.
Blossier’s camera is, as usual, highly professional, though the Monaco locations could have been exploited to better advantage. Yves Fournier’s sets, effective and serviceable as a rule, shake off the leash in at least one instance, the blowsy interior of Audrey’s room, conceived as a shrine to the late Princess Diana.
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Helene de Saint-Pere
Christophe Van de Velde