The Girl from Monaco

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Toronto International Film Festival

PARIS -- Anne Fontaine's "The Girl from Monaco" ("La Fille de Monaco") is a dark comedy that Billy Wilder would not have disavowed, featuring a confused lawyer, a ditsy blonde, sexuality in abundance and an emotional triangle that culminates in murder. With its echoes of the Nicole Kidman vehicle "To Die For" -- the blonde in question is a television weather-reporter with big ambitions -- the film will appeal to movie-goers who appreciate story, character and crisp dialogue. The film, which screens at the Toronto International Film Festival, opened in France August 20.

When Bertrand Beauvois (Fabrice Luchini), a successful middle-aged lawyer and socialite, arrives in the principality of Monaco to defend Edith (Stephane Audran), an elderly woman charged with killing her much younger lover, he finds himself saddled with a bodyguard called Christophe (Roschdy Zem) on the grounds that the murder victim may have had links to the Russian mafia. He also finds himself receiving the unbridled amorous attentions of Audrey (Louise Bourgoin), an attractive and highly sexed young TV announcer.

The fact that he cannot believe his luck does not prevent him from taking maximum advantage, even if Audrey is a simpering airhead who speaks in psychobabble and is fixated on the late princess Diana. When she announces her attention to accompany him back to Paris and marry him, he is uncertain whether to be overjoyed or appalled.

Meanwhile he develops an odd-couple relationship with Christophe, who gets him out of numerous scrapes resulting from Audrey's extravagance, and it is the bodyguard -- who has earlier enjoyed a fling with Audrey himself -- who resolves Bertrand's dilemma for him.

There are many pleasures to be derived from observing the developing bond between the lawyer and his bodyguard (there are suggestions of sexual confusion but no explicitly gay subtext), and Fontaine cleverly draws parallels between Edith's "crime passionnel" -- which also proves to be based on a love triangle -- and the tangled relationship between Audrey and the two men. The movie's humor is sly and understated rather than laugh-out-loud, as Fontaine's literate script, co-written with Benoit Graffin, hints at melancholy and deeper frustrations.

Luchini's trademark mannerisms, which in some films can be irritating, are here perfectly judged and appropriate. Zem confirms his growing stature as a boxoffice attraction, Bourgoin does well to keep her character from veering into caricature and Audran provides a luminous cameo.

Production companies: Soudaine Compagnie, Cine@, Warner Bros. Entertainment France. Cast: Fabrice Luchini, Roschdy Zem, Louise Bourgoin, Stephane Audran, Gilles Cohen. Director: Anne Fontaine. Writers: Anne Fontaine, Benoit Graffin. Producers: Christine Raspilliere, Kanzaman S.A.M. Photography: Patrick Blossier. Editor: Maryline Monthieu. Production design: Yves Fournier. Music: Philippe Rombi. Sales: Pyramide International. No rating, 95 minutes.

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