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The Girl from Monaco

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The Girl from Monaco (La fille de Monaco)
Anne Fontaine, director and co-writer. Starring: Fabrice Luchini (Bertrand Beauvois), Roschdy Zem (Christophe Abadi), Louise Bourgoin (Audrey Varela), Stephane Audran (Edith Lasalle)

Remember when French farces were funny? It wasn’t that long ago when international audience howled over La cage aux folles. Sadly, La fille de Monaco won’t make you forget this morning’s baguette et fromage, let alone a great comedy. Anne Fontaine’s film would be shockingly disloyal to her gender—if we could take it seriously.

The story begins promisingly enough. Famously successful Parisian lawyer Bertrand Beauvois’ arrival in Monaco sparks interest in the local media. The woman he’s there to defend, Edith Lasalle, is accused of murdering a Russian, who had mob connections. Christophe Abadi, a tough, up-tight security guard hired by Lasalle’s son, shows up to protect the sophisticated lawyer. The two form a nervous “odd couple” relationship, with Beauvois gradually developing respect for Abadi’s quiet professional.

This is supposed to be a farce, of course, and that means “la femme” must appear. Sure enough, she’s arrives in the firm, appealing form of Audrey Varela, a weather girl who wants to move up in the TV world. While Beauvois seems to have little time for women his own age—he rejects several appealing ladies during the film—the lawyer is happy to negotiate terms of endearment with Varela.

Naturally, Abadi objects: he’s been with Varela when both were younger and knows that Beauvois’ new squeeze is after newsworthy scoops, not a long-term affair. The Lasalles aren’t happy either when their lawyer abandons his legal books for booking hotel rooms with Varela.

All this could be amusing but it’s not. Louise Bourgoin, a very good-looking former weather girl in real life, is convincing as Audrey Varela, a former weather girl with, um, a hot body. Roschdy Zem is appropriately stiff-necked as the apparently stoic bodyguard. And Fabrice Luchini is quite good as the talented M. Beauvois.

So what’s the problem? This stylish exercise has no emotional core. Think of the best comedies: Some Like it Hot, Bringing Up Baby, Groundhog Day, When Harry Met Sally, Modern Times. You care about the characters; here, they make little sense. Why is Beauvois so in love with Varela? Does it seem credible that Abadi would actually care about what is happening to Beauvois?

If your answers are ‘no’ and ‘non,’ read on. Fontaine allows her plot to turn serious. Deaths occur. So do recriminations. Those who survive learn tough life lessons before the picture concludes.

And what lesson might Ms. Fontaine learn? How about the advice of Mr. Yankee Doodle Man, George M. Cohan: “always leave ‘em laughing.” It’s something that the auteur of La femme de Monaco should take to heart.

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