BEAUTIFUL LIES (DE VRAIS MENSONGES). Starring: Audrey Tautou, Nathalie Baye, and Sami Bouajila. Directed by Pierre Salvadori. Rated M (Infrequent Coarse Language). 100 min.This French, sub-titled film is a romantic comedy about a mother and daughter falling for the same man.
Emilie (Audrey Tautou) manages a hair salon in a rural town in the south of France, where Jean (Sami Bouajila), a handyman, works as her employee. Irritated at Jean, Emilie fires him, and rehires him, for no apparent reason, other than the fact he is too educated and intelligent for the work he does, and his competency both frustrates and threatens her. She does not know that Jean is madly in love with her, and he has written an impassioned anonymous letter declaring his love for her in poetic and inspiring terms. Jean is too shy to express his feelings to Emilie in person, and Emilie is too self-absorbed to realise that he has written the note. She tosses it aside, but later retrieves it and posts it to her mother, Maddy (Nathalie Baye), who is depressed. Maddy’s husband left her 4 years ago to live with a much younger woman, and Emilie brashly thinks a love letter from an unknown admirer will enliven her mother’s life.
Maddy takes the bait, and she roams the streets in her night-dress trying to track the author of the letter, and follows the good-looking Jean into her daughter’s hair salon. After much confusion between mother and daughter, Maddy claims Jean as her own. Emilie continues the lie, but has her feelings aroused by Jean’s ardour, after she finally realises that the letter was actually meant for her. While trying to get Jean to date her mother, she finds herself falling for him, and the stage is set for a very risky conflict between mother and daughter.
Jean is horrified by the fact that he is claimed by the mother of the woman he loves, and he finds it hard to understand, or handle, the two women’s antics. Jokes fly around about the strength of one’s sex drive, and morality is thrown to the winds, when by the end of the movie, it is suggested that both mother and daughter have, or will be, sleeping with the same man. Not surprisingly, the movie has a lot of sex stereotyping.
There are elements of French farce in the whole situation, and the smiles come readily, as the deceit grows. It is a tribute to the director that the artifice of the mistaken letter holds its appeal for the duration of the movie. The movie has additional comic moments, when it focuses on the oddness of those, who work in Emilie’s hair salon, or who are customers of it.
The love triangle between Jean, Emilie and Maddy has all the predictable elements of a French farce going wrong, and unrequited love quickly becomes a special edge to the deceit. There is nothing too heavy about what the three people are doing, though the situations in which they find themselves move across frequently into melodrama. However, the acting of the three main characters is very appealing. The 63 yr.-old Nathalie Baye is both funny and creates sympathy for her character, while Audrey Tautou gives Emilie’s predicament some wonderful facial expressions in typical Amelie-style. Sami Bouajila shares a fine sense of comic timing with them, playing the part of a man caught awkwardly between the two.
Pierre Salvadori, the director of this film, has worked with Audrey Tautou in the past, in quality comedies like “Priceless” (2009). His direction here gives a light, continental touch to the movie. The result of all the goings-on is that he has delivered a frothy film that is enjoyable, but not meant to be taken too seriously. It is a movie to escape into, and smile along with, but hasn’t a great deal of meaning beyond its quite considerable surface charm.
Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Out July 21, 2011.