catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 12 :: 2008.06.13 — 2008.06.27


For everything else

Distinguishing what’s priceless

When you look up the word “priceless” in a dictionary, you might find two definitions:

  1. Impossible to put value on 
  2. Hilarious

When you hear the word” priceless,” what do you instantly think of? Does your mind wander to a wondrous piece of art? How about a poignant moment among family and friends? How about credit cards?

The MasterCard advertising campaign for the last several years has been “priceless.” You can even go to their website at The slogan exclaims: “There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else there’s MasterCard.” The ads always feature related items running up a scale of value to something intangible that’s apparently of “priceless” value.  Some might call this smart business. Others might consider it sheer exploitation—using nostalgia to dupe people into committing money they don’t have, and for what—air miles? Come on!  But perhaps we deserve much of the blame, regardless of my finding this ad campaign to be perplexing.

Unfortunately, I think the term “priceless” has taken on a new meaning. Contemporary pop culture has taken a term that used to refer to high culture and transformed it into a low or pop culture reference. The word’s association is now forever linked in the modern consumer mind with credit to have something immediately rather than something that’s beyond value.

Contrary to MasterCard’s campaign slogan, Priceless (Hors de Prix), the new film from Frenchman Pierre Salvadori, gives us the opportunity to indulge without accruing any bills. Turning Dirty Rotten Scoundrels on its head, which was itself a remake of the 1964 comedy Bedtime Story, Priceless is a classic retelling of unlikely romance, of what happens when mistaken identity, a little deception and a lot of cocktails take us down that “Moon River.” It brings new meaning to the lyricism of Blake Edwards’ Breakfast at Tiffany’s iconic tune: “I’m crossin’ you in style.”

Jean (Gad Elmaleh), an occasional dog walker and employee at a fine hotel nestled along the exquisite French Riviera lives a life relegated to the service of pooches with ritzier lives than he. Overworked, Jean can barely stay awake at his primary job as hotel bartender. Irene (Audrey Tautou) is an enchanting sylph who milks naïve men, typically seniors, to bankroll her luxurious lifestyle. So, when her drunken sugar daddy falls asleep on her birthday, a peeved Irene enters the bar where she lays eyes on Jean (sprawled out on the sofa, sleeping). Mistaking him for another one of her preys perched in evening wear, she begins the standard role-play and Jean happily complies.

After an evening under the sheets in the Royal Suite, the rug is pulled out from under Irene’s false sensibilities. Humiliated, Irene walks. Yet, Jean pursues her to Nice where Irene exacts her revenge by milking Jean’s lovesick credulity: "I don't even really like caviar, but I'm forcing myself," she says, in mid-bite. However, when Jean is once again mistaken, this time as a sophisticated and wealthy widowed gigolo by Madeleine (Marie-Christine Adam), the tables turn, leading to a romantic duel. Irene, now on the arm of another, begins to tutor Jean in all the nuances of seduction as they compete for the affections of others all the while attempting to conceal their own for one another.

Where Priceless departs from the standard formulaic American romantic comedy is in its execution. The characters don’t merely play to the audience. Their characterization is infectious, transmitted in the subtle but cogent moments of their drawing ever closer to one-another by pushing each other away. Their performances weave us right into the tapestry of their romantic tale. Case in point: when Irene peels back the frosted opaque sliding doors of her closet to reveal the bounty of gold-digging booty, Jean’s expression, from his pale facial tones to his inclined eye-brow, revel in the pleasures of the game.

Priceless accentuates the ole adage that money can’t buy love, but in a way that implies it takes such futile pursuits to potentially open the door for love. The script by Salvadori and Benoit Graffin is charming, the performances are austere but urbane, convincing without being overly trite. Tautou’s sexy audacity gives you full-body shivers and Elmaleh’s sly mannerisms and spot-on facial gestures are a highlight. Priceless is an exotic fantasy world of exceptional wardrobes, bubbly champagne, caviar and picturesque landscapes—a world in which anyone and anything can be bought and sold for a price, except for love.

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