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Friday Film Review: The Valet (La doublure)

Friday Film Review: The Valet (La doublure)

Le Doublure (The Valet) (2006)

Genre: RomCom

Grade: B

I’ve enjoyed lots of Francis Veber’s movies (and laughed at the nod to “Le dîner de cons” that’s mentioned here) but this one has romance as well as comedy. It’s a charming French farce that is very approachable. The actors are enjoyable, the action keeps moving and it’s truly funny. It’s also, despite being filled with some immoral people, a very moral little tale.

Rich CEO bastard Levasseur (Daniel Auteuil) has had a mistress for two years. Now Elena (Alice Taglioni) is pressing him to follow through with his promise to divorce his cold wife (Kristen Scott Thomas) and marry her. Though desperate to keep this woman he’s infatuated with, he still balks due to the fact that his wife owns a majority share of the company he runs and if he initiates divorce proceedings, she’ll clean him out. Elena is exasperated with his broken promises and issues an ultimatum. It’s during their fight on the street that a paparazzo captures the moment in pictures.

When the picture appears in a newspaper, suspicious Mdm. Levasseur questions her husband. Luckily for him, at the exact moment the picture was snapped, lowly voiturier (car valet) Francois Pignon (Gad Elmaleh) is passing by and Levasseur lies and says he is the man with Elena. He gets his smarmy lawyer Foix (Richard Berry) to track down Francois and offer a deal. If he’ll pretend to be lovers with Elena, Levasseur will pay him well. He’ll also put 20m euros in an account for Elena which she will either get -if no divorce comes through – or give back – if Levasseur marries her.

Francois agrees for his own reasons. His proposal to his long time girlfriend Emilie (Virginie Ledoyen) was turned down and he plans to use the money to pay off her newly opened bookstore and convince her to say yes. The ruse is begun with seemingly half of Paris watching. The fan mags are milking the story, friends and family members of Francois and Emilie are alternately envious or horrified, Levasseur is going insane watching Elena snuggle with Francois and his wife is cynically enjoying all his distress. Can all the mismatches be corrected, true love win out and everyone get what he or she really deserves?

The first funny thing here is the opening credits complete with Chuck Berry singing “No particular place to go.” A Chuck Berry song starting a French movie? Mais oui, c’est perfect as director Veber says. His commentary is also fun to listen to as he tells lots of interesting things about the actors, shooting the film and how it all came about. For instance, one of his toughest challenges was in finding a woman beautiful enough and, especially, tall enough who also speaks French and can act in order to play Elena. There are lots of lovely French women but since Elena’s character is a super model, height was a requirement. The next problem he had to solve was the fact that Alice towers over Daniel Auteuil. What to do? Have Alice sitting as much as possible when they were on screen together, of course.

Daniel Auteuil is one of my favorite French actors but he’s joined here by another I’m coming to like in Gad Elmaleh. Gad is just so sweet I can’t help but cheer him on as he struggles to earn the “oui” of the woman he really loves. One of the delights of the film is his relationship with long time friend and fellow voiturier Richard (Dany Boon) who is in envious and stunned disbelief that his average friend seems to have somehow caught the attention of this top model. Boon perfectly captures amazement, envy and “you go, boy!”

Alice Taglioni does a very creditable job in her role being both charming and determined to force her lover to keep his word. It’s hard to dislike her even though she’s been a married man’s mistress because she quickly recognizes where Francois’s real interests lies and gives him the benefit of her feminine intuition to smooth Emilie’s ruffled feathers. Virginie Ledoyen is lovely in that fresh faced French way but fades a bit into the background of the film. She’s not bad but just not as much fun as these others.

As I said, I love Auteuil and here he’s wonderful as a smarmy, rich enfant who wants to have his cake and eat it too. Watching him get wound tighter and tighter as his PIs report back how well Francois and Elena are working together – doing exactly what he wants and instructed them to do – is delicious. Then when he gets hoisted on his own petard is the piece de resistance. Who helps hoist him? Why his cool, controlled wife. Veber was skeptical at first that Scott Thomas could carry off the role but her flawless French and sophisticated beauty enables the character to be exactly what is needed. Her cynical amusement while watching the goings on and her delight in imaging her husband twisting in the wind keeps her from being a scorned woman and transforms her into a tower of strength. Her intelligence and cunning – the Curtain Brigade is a stroke of genius – end up turning the tables on the man who would do her wrong.

There are several tertiary characters who help round out the cast and add to the fun. Foix, the smarmy lawyer, and Patrick Mille, the smarmy cell phone salesman – with his patented and oft used hand kissing ploy – who pursues Emilie are people you love to hate. My favorites though are Francois’s parents – who are as gobsmacked as anyone about the turn of events but also hopeful of a happy ending with Emilie. Close behind them is Michel Aumont, Monsieur Pignon’s invalid doctor who usually ends up being tended by his patients while he makes his house calls. Watch for a final character who seals Levasseur’s doom and steals the final scene of the film. He, or is it she? – is fabulous.

I totally agree with people who say this is a cute, little harmless film. But it’s a well done, well acted film with several LOL moments – such as the reaction of the waiters who work in the outdoors restaurant where Francois and Richard park cars to Elena’s arrival one day or the doctor’s assessment of Monsieur Pignon’s shot giving ability or the final way Levasseur is brought low (I won’t spoil the fun by saying how). Sure it’s feel-good but because everyone truly gets what they deserve. Francois gets Emilie, Elena – I think – gets the money, Madame Levasseur gets her revenge and Mr Levasseur gets screwed. Perfect.


Friday Film Review: The Lady Vanishes

Friday Film Review: The Lady Vanishes

The Lady Vanishes (1938)

Genre: Romantic Suspense

Grade: B

“Traveling aboard a transcontinental train, young Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) becomes alarmed when an acquaintance, elderly governess Miss Froy (Dame Mae Whitty), suddenly vanishes. Inexplicably, all the other passengers deny having seen the woman. So Iris turns to her lone ally — handsome music scholar Gilbert Redman (Michael Redgrave) — for help. As the two search for clues to Froy’s disappearance, they uncloak a sinister plot.”

I’ve tried a lot of Hitchcock’s early English made pieces. And while some work for me – to various degrees – others decidedly do not. This is one which works and does so very well. It’s hardly the master’s best movie but still an important one based on what he was trying to do – point out the fallacy of Britain being able to stay neutral and the fact that it was morally wrong based on the character and intentions of the Nazis. While I watch it, I’m pulled along by the suspense and the humor. It’s only afterwards that the plot holes appear but by then, I’ve enjoyed myself again and am willing to make allowances.

The film also foreshadows later Hitchcock works in which innocent people suddenly get caught up in situations beyond their control which all turn out to be vast conspiracy plots. The charming country inn and scenic landscape at first lull one into a sense that all is well, only to have things get out of control once the characters are confined to the small space of the train. This also heightens the sense of drama and the suspense – how will they escape from the villains, how will the vital information make it to England and what kind of romantic future do Gilbert and Iris have?

There’s plenty of romance in the movie despite their initial rocky meeting. Here’s Iris who’s set to marry a man she obviously doesn’t love but one who will give her status, a title and a coat of arms on the jam pot. Then she meets devil-may-care Gilbert. At first sparks fly but he proves himself to be her match and mate when he alone believes her story – even though he has no reason to do so – and is willing to help her when all the others think her cracked or a nuisance. The chemistry between Lockwood and Redgrave sizzles.

The script is bursting with English dry wit. Gilbert’s a Cambridge man who sticks to his school loyalties. There are two other fun Englishmen, Charters and Caldicott, who are obsessed with finding out the score of a cricket match but who come through when the chips are down. Their characters proved to be so popular that they were reused in several other films including another English vs the Nazis on a train in Europe called “Night Train to Munich.” The other Englishman protests up to the end that he’ll stay out of the conflict – only to find it overtakes him despite all his protestations. At first, all of them have touches of that English sense of superiority and disdain for foreigners but in the end, they do what’s right.

Lockwood is great as the plucky Englishwoman who knows what she knows and who will not be hushed because it’s convenient for her or others. Redgrave embodies the English sense of fair play yet willingness to stand by what might appear to be a lost cause because it’s the right thing to do. I adore the fight between Gilbert and one of the villains in the baggage car with Iris trying to help out. It looks a bit silly at times but comes off as more natural than that Gilbert should suddenly turn out to be a boxing champ. Watch for the rabbits in their hat who appear then disappear during the clumsy fight – as if this is too low brow for them to be a part of. Hitchcock includes lots of these shifts between funny and serious to lighten the mood the film before turning up the tension even further.

For a film of its time, the “special effects” are surprisingly well done though there are points where it’s obvious that we’re watching doll houses and model trains. Still the work done on the “train” set is good. But it’s a 70+ year old movie so don’t expect today’s realism. I will say it’s a shame that there doesn’t appear to be a DVD version with subtitles. Between the accents and a lot of whispering, close attention must be paid in order to catch all the dialogue. And even then it pays to rewatch the film once you know all the twists and turns in order not to miss things. It is a product of the time with several of the female actors resorting to what I call the hysterical method of acting – this is seen in the shootout scene and to a lesser degree during Iris’s initial attempts to get people to believe her tale of a mysteriously vanishing woman. Plus the villains seem surprisingly blase once our intrepid band has finally got beyond their clutches.

The first 20+ minutes of the film are used to set up the characters – who they are individually and in relation to each other. There is also a touch of the sinister events to come as a code is passed on and a murder takes place. But audiences might well wonder who is the lady who vanishes and when, by God, is she finally going to go missing? That takes a while to get to as even after the second part of the film begins, clues must be left to be found later and still more characters must be met. It’s not until the halfway point of the movie that things begin to pick up steam then rush towards a conclusion. Even if the plot is a bit creaky by today’s standards, give it a shot for the lovely banter between Iris and Gilbert as they begin to fall for each other. B