Priceless is a precious commodity: a sophisticated sex comedy with an intelligent female protagonist. The film's opening half-hour — wherein lissome gold-digger Irène (Audrey Tautou, gloriously cast against type) mistakes hotel bartender Jean (Gad Elmaleh) for a playboy and has a drunken fling with him in the hotel's royal suite — is a suave, sensuous mini-masterpiece notable for its glamorous, golden location photography and its visual wit. (When Irène throws Jean onto bed, she doesn't notice the mints on the pillows.)
Once Irène realizes that Jean isn't wealthy, she leaves him, only to be reunited when Jean attracts the fancy of an older woman staying at the same hotel as Irène and her latest older male companion. Soon Irène is teaching Jean all the ridiculous secrets to fleecing the needy and wealthy, and the pair gradually realizes that, although they spend most of their lives pretending to be someone else, they are only free individuals when they are together.
Just beneath the movie's fizzy continental surface is a gentle but firm send-up of permanent-vacation society and conspicuous consumption. In its elliptical editing, its emphasis on symbolic props, and its celebration of ritzy, erotic sexual opportunism, Priceless is also reminiscent of such smooth Ernst Lubitsch classics as Trouble in Paradise. And once you embrace Jean and Irène's moral relativism, the jokes get better and better. Irène's decision to sleep with her morose sugar daddy as part of her plan to keep a late-night assignation with Jean is one of the most romantic things I've seen all year.
Opens Friday, May 23rd, at Ridgeway Four