Fontaine's new film seems on the surface simply a brightly colored Riviera toy, a romantic comedy with some Chabrol-eque twists at the end. There's a bit more; the salt-and-pepper casting of Fabrice Lucchini and Roschdy Zem is at least meant to be sly, the use of newcomer Louise Bourgoin an amusing experiment. Since this is Anne Fontaine, the comedy-drama is also a study of unexpected sexual attractions. It's a somewhat bizarre threesome: a famous lawyer, Bertrand (the soft, mercurial, witty Lucchini); his assigned and initially unwanted security guard, Christophe (the chiseled, tight-lipped Zim); and an air-headed but voluptuous TV weather bunny, Audrey (Bourgoin, a méteo presenter and TV personality in real life). But if the approach and the thinking are individual, the result is still pretty bland and generic.
Bertrand is a crack trial lawyer--and that's an excellent role for the ultra-articulate Lucchini. He's engaged in a high-profile trial in Monaco in which he is defending a posh lady, Édith Lassalle (a rather wasted Stephane Audran) who murdered, by stabbing, her younger Russian boyfriend, a gigolo characterized in court as having been spectacularly well hung. The family's rich, the case is high profile, and the boyfriend was a a sleazy, possibly mafioso Russian, so Édith's son Louis (Gilles Cohen) has engaged a full-time bodyguard for Bertrand.
He, Christophe, maintains his distance, but the cliché happens: Bertrand notices him and, not to be bothered by his hovering, invites him to dinner. There not being any real physical danger anyway, Chirstophe soon becomes simply Bertrand's girl wrangler, disposing of an annoying ex-girlfriend of the lawyer (Jeanne Balibar) by bedding her, then keeping Audrey at bay when she begins seducing the lawyer in the middle of the trial. The surprise (but isn't it another comedy cliché?) is, Christophe and Audrey have a history. Why not? She's screwed everyone on 'The Rock.' He pretends to be the strong silent type, but the new Bertrand-Audrey story complicates the buddy-picture aspect of things by making Christophe both more personally protective of Bertrand and dangerously jealous of him, when this strong silent type turns out not to have gotten that girl out of his system. Christophe reacts with repressed rage toward Audrey, and the film turns strangely serious. But not serious enough to make an impression. And the comedy wasn't funny enough to be memorable either. The screenplay might have worked better if Fontaine had chosen one direction or the other and flown with it.
Sure, this is a good cast and the colorful, free Monagasque atmosphere is made integral to the action. But truth to tell Bourgoin is just a tasty bauble who's not drop-dead gorgeous or soulful enough to have a great future ahead of her. Whatever they may have thought, Bardot she's not. Fontaine's strict directing of Lucchini (who is far wittier and funnier on TV and probably in his stage performances) and Zem (whose role remains relatively servile here), holding both back from "doing" much, or being fully themselves, fails to make the most of either. Lucchini is always fun to watch (and to hear talk) but he's more fun to watch when he's just being himself. It's obvious that a Chabrol treatment of this theme would be better and his recent 'Girl Cut in Two' has more depth--without having much depth.
Ultimately, and, alas, well before the last scene, this is a movie that disappoints. Will Sloan wasn't far from the mark when he commented that this illustrates Matt Groening's notion of "cinema's greatest paradox," that "the French are funny, sex is funny, and comedies are funny, yet no French sex comedies are funny." It's true of this one at least. A perusal of 'How I Killed My Father' and the less often mentioned but intriguing 'Dry Cleaning' will show how far this piece of frippery is from Anne Fontaine's best work.
'La fille de Monaco' debuted in Paris August 20, 2008, to satisfactory reviews. Shown as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center, March 2009. It has been bought for distribution by Magnolia Pictures for an early July US release. with US release planned for early July. 2009