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Friday, April 6th, 2012

As witnessed in Delicacy, Audrey Tautou is adorable (insufferable?) even while she’s grieving. Still, as also witnessed in Delicacy, she deserves more than critics’ and moviedom’s neverending categorization of her as a man-entrancing pixie — say, as an actress, maybe? In directors David Foenkinos and Stephane Foenkinos’ film, adapted by David from his novel, Tautou plays Nathalie, a woman who’s crazy in love with Francois (Pio Marmai). They regularly re-create the day they met at a coffeehouse and eventually they marry, getting along spookily well with their in-laws and talking about kids, though they decide to put that off. It seems like they have all the time in the world.

But they don’t. Francois dies unexpectedly, leaving a huge void in Nathalie’s life that she at first fills with solitude and then with work. And Tautou is terrific portraying the grieving widow,
doleful despite her constant, perky ponytail and occasionally angry about everyone’s attempt to help a process that can’t be helped. It’s a subtle performance that could have been chewed, and it cries for its performer to be taken more seriously.

If only the rest of Delicacy were so deserving. Counterintuitively, the film’s perfect-love first half is more interesting than its after-the-tragedy second, which is dull, illogical, and offensive to all men who don’t look like models. For three years, Nathalie engages in nothing but her job at a even though dudes apparently fall in her wake, particularly her boss (Bruno Todeschini), who straightforwardly hits on her. She’s at first flustered but is eventually just as direct in return, saying that although she may start dating again one day, she’s quite sure it won’t be him because she doesn’t find him attractive. It’s harsh, but you admire Nathalie for her honesty.

And then Delicacy goes off the rails. One day, a colleague of the work group of which she is head, Markus (Francois Damiens), enters her office to take about a problem with a case. Her resolution? To get up and kiss him, never saying a word. He leaves with a spring in his step and an unwipeable smile on his face, attracting the attention of every gorgeous woman who passes him by, even though he’s balding and kinda odd-looking. Markus stays in his reverie until he confronts Nathalie about it. She doesn’t remember kissing him, she says. Let’s forget about it and get back to work, she insists. Of course, Markus can’t, and he sorta-pursues her, himself giving her a kiss out of nowhere one day and asking her out to dinner. And suddenly they’re a couple.

Except when they’re not — each pulls away at least once in the relationship for various reasons. Much is made of the fact that Markus isn’t handsome, particularly in one scene in which Nathalie’s friend invites him to her party and then reacts to him as if he’s a troll: When she opens the door, she doesn’t even think that he may be Nathalie’s date but assume it’s a neighbor complaining about the noise. And then she almost angrily rebukes Nathalie in front of her guests, not-so-disguisedly telling her she could do better. It’s absurd.

However. You never for a minute buy the relationship; why on Earth Nathalie falls for Markus is anybody’s guess. (Much is made of the fact that he’s funny, but he ain’t that funny.) Tautou can beam and giggle all she wants, but even an Oscar-winning actress couldn’t make this alleged love spark. And thus Delicacy’s long slog begins — a dull musing on a relationship that has its ups and downs, but only because the script says so. (There’s a single entertaining moment throughout all this, and that’s when Markus puts on cologne when Nathalie IMs him.) When Markus tries to back off at one point, he says, “I’m going to fall in love…it’s ridiculous!” and runs away. Yes, it is ridiculous, and so is most of this movie.


Friday, April 4th, 2008

This is how you look cool.

For at least a few minutes of Priceless, another bit of froth from Après Vous… writer-director Pierre Salvadori, you will hate Audrey Tautou. Not because she plays a veritable Pikachu with boobs like she did in her breakout movie, 2001’s precious Amélie. It’s just the opposite: Tautou’s Irène, in her most unflattering moments, can best be described as a bitch if you’re being polite and a whore if you’re not. Gone is the pixie haircut and the gamine charm of her retro namesake, Audrey Hepburn, even though the film is being touted as a reimagining of that star’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Here, Tautou is sultry and calculating, a gold digger who has no qualms about her lifestyle (and neither does the script, co-written by Salvadori’s Après Vous… collaborator, Benoît Graffin). She coos and is affectionate with any man, frequently men much older than she, who can keep her in the lavish lifestyle to which she has become accustomed.

But pity the fool who trips her plans, in this case Jean (Gad Elmaleh), a hangdog employee at the French resort where Irène’s beau takes her on her birthday. One night, the old sop gets loaded while she takes her time prettying herself, so she goes to the deserted hotel bar to celebrate alone. There she meets Jean, whom she mistakes for a rich guest and ends up in bed with—for two birthdays in a row, until her sugar daddy finds out and dumps her.

Unlike Salvadori’s earlier film, the plot of Priceless mercifully isn’t entirely hinged on deception. Irène does find out about Jean’s working-class status, but that’s no spoiler—the revelation happens early, and the now-unpredictable story builds from there. After their blowup, Irène, left nearly penniless and with only a small suitcase and her well-annotated black book, starts working the phone to reconnect with past potentials. Jean follows her to apologize, and that’s when Irène gets ugly, punishing him by insisting he take her to fancy restaurants and buy her clothes if he dare stay within her sight, a scowl on her face more often than her usual fake smile.

Again, though, this is a brief turn of events, and Irène gets considerably more likable after she latches onto another chump while Jean, shocked as anyone, finds himself in a situation not unlike Irène’s; this invites her to teach Jean her tricks, so to speak, and allows the character’s wit and Tautou’s natural appeal to finally let loose. (And, to be fair, the actress plays a very funny drunk, tottering slightly and grinning idiotically.)

The film itself, meanwhile, was a winner all along, largely due to Elmaleh’s comic brilliance—Jean makes split-second personality changes from service schlep to suave high roller whenever he unexpectedly sees Irène, and he automatically grabs someone’s bags when a clerk at a different hotel claps for a bellman. The scene in which Jean is caught waiting tables—quickly ditching his bow tie, affecting a GQ stance, and giving you’re-the-man finger-snaps to customers trying to get his attention—is alone enough to make Irène’s occasional unpleasantness and the script’s eventual romantic-comedy pitfalls forgivable.