Year Released: 2008
Directed by: Pierre Salvadori
Starring: Audrey Tautou, Gad Elmaleh, Marie-Christian Adam, Vernon Dobtcheff
(PG-13, 104 min.)
"My only regret in life is that I did not drink more champagne." John Maynard Keynes
Think of words you never thought you’d be using together, such as delightfully decadent, innocently seductive, or wickedly wonderful. And then those that seem made for each other, like sophisticated, French, sex, and farce. Combine these with the same light touch Frenchmen use in their pastry, and you get this cream puff of a film - sweet, airy, and utterly delicious.
It certainly helps that Audrey Tautou, the exquisite angel of 2001’s Amelie returns to grace the screen as the naughty but nice Irene, and her co-star, Gad Elmaleh, as the smitten Jean, is no slouch, either. A Moroccan by birth, gifted with a Gallic nose, melting blue eyes, and perfect comic timing, he evolves before our eyes. It’s as though he learns to live up to the mistaken identities that fall upon him like so many autumn leaves.
Irene discovers him asleep on a lounge chair in the posh hotel’s late night bar, and she mistakes him for a fellow patron rather than the sleep-deprived bartender. When someone so completely gorgeous and absolutely confident assumes you are better than you are, how not to play along? As he takes over for the “absent” bartender and mixes her an expert drink, she surmises that is just a part of his Renaissance man skills. Of course, these skills also include an expert knowledge of the room vacancies, especially the Imperial Suite, where he escorts her for a night of passion.
The comic possibilities ripen when she returns with her elderly “patron” a year later and enters the restaurant where Jean waits tables. Immediately, he seats himself at an empty one and gives his order to a dumb-founded fellow employee. That evening he accomplishes the switch from barman to bon vivant with a deft removal of his tie and a pose of languorous insouciance, one we are sure he has regularly observed among the bored patrons who routinely expect his subservience.
More comic possibilities ensue when the call of his old ways interrupts Jean’s playacting as gentleman or gigolo. He inadvertently picks up luggage in the lobby, jumps up to serve his companion at a luxurious brunch, and straightens the sheets and fluffs the pillows after his night in the Imperial Suite.
Not quite as funny is the underlying reality that Irene’s “charms” go to the highest bidder, that she is obsessed with the acquisition of obscenely priced designer dresses, shoes, and priceless baubles, measuring her four day relationship with her latest in terms of a closet overflowing like a pirate’s booty, hers earned with bedmanship instead of swordsmanship, of course. That Jean succumbs to her ways as easily as Adam did to Eve’s is also a bit disappointing, but it’s either the handcuffs of the police or the invisible ones of Madeleine, his “patroness,” since the wily Irene has managed to completely bankrupt our smitten young man in a matter of days. A kind of cruel payback once she learns she has sacrificed a cozy marriage to a loaded old coot for the penniless Jean.
Tawdry it may be, but never has tawdry had such style. Even Irene’s lessons on the proper pout – guaranteed to loosen some big change – the ambiguous unfinished sentence – a dead cert cash cow, are charming. And of course, we have the redeeming power of love, sure to affect even the most venal, blossoming into a generous and noble integrity whose perfume sweetens the heretofore-foul airs of avaricious desire.
Like sugar free chocolate, this guilty pleasure is not quite as guilty as it might be.
Expert bar tender that he is, Jean knows just the thing to cheer up the lonely Irene, all dressed up with no where to go on her birthday. He makes her a champagne pick me up, a punch with delicate carved tropical fruit and paper umbrellas like coy sunbathers dipping their toes into its alluring liquid.
She ends the drink with a smile on her face and the umbrella in her hair. Before too long, the paper parasols pile up in a near traffic jam in her coiffure. Seldom has total inebriation looked so elegant.
Enjoy our delicious champagne punch, but take my advice, and stop at the third umbrella.
Our recipe is garnered from The Bliss of Cooking Returns put out by the Fort Bliss Officers Wives Club, Ft. Bliss, TX. I’ll bet these women could teach those French dames a thing or two.
You might also enjoy these other cocktails:
- 1 fifth sauterne; chilled
- 1 fifth champagne; chilled
- 2 cups strawberries; stemmed and washed
- 2 quarts grapefruit soda (wink or squirt); chilled
Combine sauterne, champagne & soda in punch bowl. Drop in strawberries.
Makes 18-20 servings. Paper Parasols optional.
Recipe Source: astray.com