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The Girl From Monaco (a.k.a. La fille de Monaco)

(2009) ** 1/2 R
95 min. Magnolia Pictures. Director: Anne Fontaine. Cast: Roschdy Zem, Fabrice Luchini, Louise Bourgoin, Gilles Cohen, Jeanne Balibar.

/content/films/3478/1.jpgThe French comedy-drama The Girl from Monaco demonstrates how an excess of liberté and fraternité can be hazardous to the health, especially where there is an absence of egalité. An upper-class lawyer falls for a middle-class weather girl, raising the hackles of his new best friend, his lower-class bodyguard.

Ironically, bodyguard Christophe (Roschdy Zem) may be the classiest of the three characters. Calm, cool, and collected (if a bit stiff), he’s been employed to protect Bertrand (Patrice Luchini), a high-profile criminal lawyer on a case in Monaco, from the Russian Mob. The sad sack Bertrand admires Christophe’s strength and confidence, especially with women. Bertrand says, "So it's simple for you: you see a girl, you like her, you sleep with her. That's normal?" Christophe replies, "Isn't that the idea?"

Trying on Christophe’s self-assurance for size, Bertrand finds himself in a co-dependent relationship with Audrey (Louise Bourgoin), a sexpot weather girl who once had a dalliance with Christophe. Less than half Bertrand’s age, the promiscuous Audrey appears to be using sex to improve her circumstances. The unnatural blonde is a walking symbol of the self-involved shallowness and falsity threatening to swallow up the civilized world, with her clear career goal (world domination), but inane career plans (a segment on “Celeb Pets”).

Presumably reasoning she can capture some of the big-time Bertrand’s reflected gravitas, Audrey resolves to misuse her access to the love-struck Bertrand to fashion a segment invading his personal life, to his probable embarrassment. And thus sexual and class tensions emerge in this “love” triangle, if it can be called that. Christophe’s protective instincts shift into overdrive, partly out of duty but more so out of a personal loyalty borne of newfound respect for his hapless master’s underlying nobility. The bodyguard’s residual sexual attraction to Audrey and deepening platonic love for Bertrand complicate the dynamic.

Patrice Luchini (late of Molière and Intimate Strangers) excels at playing squares, and he’s well supported by the convincingly knotted Zem and the insinuating Bourgoin, making her film debut after a career…as a TV weather girl. Though director and co-writer Anne Fontaine initially sets out into frothy comedy territory, she winds up following a scenic route of the damaging consequences of her characters’ choices. Such a move invariably shows daring and potential, but here the shift in tone brings with it a sort of narrative whiplash Fontaine fails stylistically to reconcile.

Though Bertrand tells Christophe he knows where the limit lies, the picture is all about crossing boundaries that seem better off left in place: Christophe is meant to keep a distance of six meters, but Bertrand invites his friendship, while Audrey uses her Siren sexuality as a weapon to fight her way to higher ground. The Girl from Monaco is a fair diversion in what turns out to be a psychological thriller vein, but the decent snap of its comedic first half fails to convert into chair-gripping suspense. More damagingly, the very last hairpin plot turn isn’t in the least convincing.

[This review first appeared in Palo Alto Weekly.]

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