Friday, April 11, 2008

Film Review: The Vallet

"The Vallet" *** (out of ****)

You might think the French would be experts at making sex farces. Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren't. Francis Veber's "The Vallet" is something of a mixed bag.

Francis Veber's films are usually quite successful in his home country. The films are so successful in fact that American producers continue to buy the rights to his films to rework them into English where they have bombed repeatedly. Some film fans may have never heard of Veber, but, trust me, you've heard of the American remakes. Just to give you a short list his films include "Le Chevre", which was remade in English as "Pure Luck" starring Martin Short. "Le Jouet", remade as "The Toy" with Jackie Gleason and Richard Pyor and "Les Comperes" remade as "Father's Day" with Billy Crystal and Robin Williams.

Now viewers can't say well gee, all of those films were terrible. Look at it this way, American producers keep buying the rights to these films thinking American audiences will want to see them. I mention all of this because I'm willing to bet an American remake of this film is already in the works.

"The Vallet" is a film about mistaken identity. It pretty much goes down the familiar path you would expect a story with this premise to take. A rich billionaire, Pierre Levasseur (Daniel Auteuil) has been having an affair with a famous supermodel, Elena (Alice Taglioni). One day the paparazzi take a picture of the two together. With such a photo published it could destroy his marriage to Christine (Kristen Scott Thomas) which would spell disaster for him since his wife owns 60% of the company where he works. As luck would have it however, another man was walking past the two lovers when the picture was taken. A vallet named Francois (Gad Elmaleh). In order to avoid a scandal Pierre pays Francois to let Elena live with him for a few days so the two can be seen together to prove they are a couple. It was with Francois, Elena was standing next to in the photo not Pierre.

The plot definitely has comedic possibilities. In our media obsessed world such a story seems quite plausible. An unsuspecting person becomes the talk of the town simply for escorting a beautiful celebrity.

The problem with "The Vallet" is Veber doesn't go far enough the film. He takes no chances. He doesn't risk anything and simply goes for the "safe laugh". The film is relatively short. It runs under 90 minutes. Events move too briskly for the film to sink its teeth into any one storyline sufficiently and wastes too much time on unimportant ones.

One scene deals with Francois and Elena having to sleep together on his bed to convince the paparazzi spying on them across the street. Francois has no curtains so the two must actually sleep together on the bed. So much time is devoted to this idea. In theory it may have seemed funny but by focusing so heavily on one joke Veber passes up the opportunity to make three more. What if Francois liked to sleep in the nude and had no pajamas? Or if Elena didn't bring any with her because she didn't suspect she would have to sleep in the same bed with him? Or what if Francois had a bunk-bed?

With so many missed comic opportunities you may ask, why recommended the film? The reason is because despite the failed chances for comedy the film is still pleasant enough to watch. It is a lighthearted diversion which the cast gives their all. The cast is really the best thing about the film.

Daniel Auteuil is one of the great French actors. His work in films such as "Jean de Florette" and recent films like "Cache" display an intensity he brings to the table. He has the ability to play many characters effectively. Kristen Scott Thomas isn't really given much to work with her but I was impressed how well she speaks French. I understand she lives there instead of England.

"The Vallet" is not a great comedy or a great Veber film. It is however a delicious French souffle. And like most sweets its not something you want to indulge in too often, just once in a while.