Thursday, July 2, 2009

Not Your Average Bimbo

Louise Bourgoin in THE GIRL FROM MONACO (Photo: Magnolia Pictures)

The Girl from Monaco
Directed by
Anne Fontaine
Written by Fontaine & Benoît Graffin
With Fabrice Luchini, Roschdy Zem, Louise Bourgoin (pictured, above) and Stéphane Audran

Opens July 1, 2009

Always a provocatively witty explorer of the seamier side of sexuality, director Anne Fontaine mixes the comic and dramatic travails of her characters with delicious results, from the married couple experimenting with a drag queen in Dry Cleaning to the suspicious wife hiring a prostitute to investigate her husband’s affairs in Nathalie.

Now Fontaine returns with a mischievous look at blind desire, The Girl from Monaco. Fabrice Luchini stars as Bertrand, a high-priced Parisian lawyer in Monaco defending an elderly murderess (Stéphane Audran). Falling head over heels in lust with the ambitious local weather gal, Audrey (Louise Bourgoin), Bertrand finds his usually orderly world hijacked until the bodyguard assigned to protect him during the trial, Christophe (Roschdy Zem), takes matters into his own hands.

The Girl from Monaco can be enjoyed as a simple farce as the neurotic Bertrand falls further for Audrey—whose trashy looks and wardrobe, coupled with her complete lack of morals or inhibitions, are the antithesis of the straight-laced attorney. But there’s a lot more underneath, beginning with the deftness with which Fontaine juggles this odd trio. As Bertrand and Audrey’s relationship blossoms, there remains some unfinished business between Audrey and Christophe, who had a fling a couple of years earlier.

In the comedically shifting relationship between Bertrand and Christophe, Fontaine plants her most subversive bomb, making The Girl from Monaco a deeply satisfying exploration of sexual confusion, male camaraderie, and the male ego. With Audrey insinuating herself deeper into his life, Bertrand’s legal competence begins to flounder. He’s become so distracted by her that, after one particularly long night of partying with her and her friends, he’s struck with laryngitis in the courtroom the next morning. Christophe knows that Audrey could cause Bertrand to lose his case, so he takes his former lover aside to explain to her why she should stay away from Bertrand. What ultimately happens solidifies the bond between the two men—at Audrey’s expense.

It’s to Fontaine’s credit that her film never degenerates into lurid misogyny, even when Christophe decides to get between Audrey and Bertrand. Most likely it’s because Fontaine has created in Audrey an alluring antagonist who is less a brainless bimbo than a babe with enough smarts to use what she has to get what she wants. Audrey’s tantalizing effect on these two men—Bertrand’s wide-eyed wonder that a gorgeous woman half his age finds him attractive and Christophe’s disgust that an earlier, discarded conquest could live without him—is simultaneously funny and tragic, and Fontaine allows the story to race to its entirely logical conclusion.

Luchini, a master at playing weak-kneed men, plays Bertrand as hilariously discombobulated by this loudly vulgar tootsie. Zem’s Christophe is the ultimate straight man, his exasperated facial expressions are priceless to watch; and Bourgoin—who was actually a local weather girl when Fontaine cast her as Audrey—is as sexy and irresistible as any dangerous femme fatale.

Since her last two films never were shown in America, it’s nice to report that Anne Fontaine has returned with this dark comedy and, later this fall, with her latest, Coco Before Chanel, which stars Audrey Tautou as the famous French designer. This year looks like a welcome return to form for one of the most varied directors on the international scene.

originally posted on

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