If you had to categorize Anne Fontaine’s new picture, it would probably be accurate to call it a tragicomedy, one that aims for an oddly bittersweet tone. Unfortunately, the comedy comes across as forced and the tragedy unearned. “The Girl from Monaco” is a considerable disappointment from a filmmaker capable of a picture as good as Fontaine’s “How I Killed My Father.”
Despite the suggestion of the title, the central character is a brilliant French lawyer, Bertrand Beauvois (Fabrice Luchini), who’s been brought to the titular principality by Louis Lasalle (Gilles Cohen) to defend his mother Edith (Stephane Audran), in the dock for stabbing a young Russian who’d become part of her household, and presumably her lover. Because the dead man’s relatives are perceived as a threat, Louis has hired a bodyguard for Bertrand—dark, serious Christophe Abadi (Roschdy Zem).
But while doing a TV interview, Beauvois meets another local—beautiful, on-the-make weather girl Audrey Varela (Louise Bourgoin), who manages without much effort to turn the supposedly worldly lawyer into a hapless swain, willing even to let her tape him in his off hours for a “behind-the-façade” program she hopes will be her ticket to fame. And he permits her to introduce him into her circle of anything-goes pals, despite warnings from Christophe—a guy with a checkered past of his own and real street smarts—of the danger she poses.
The bulk of the plot deals with two relationships—that between Bertrand and Christophe, on whom he comes to depend more and more; and that between Bertrand and Audrey, from whose charms he can’t extricate himself despite his own realization that she’s a problem. Less attention is devoted to the Lasalle trial, though inevitably one draws a comparison between the lawyer and his client, both of whom can be seen as caught up in mid-life crises.
But while the Lasalle case winds up in a triumph for Beauvois as a result of a revelation that frankly comes out of left field, the man’s private difficulties turn out rather differently. There the main thrust has to do with the highly protective stance Christophe has developed toward his charge, and, as it turns out, an equally protective one Bertrand has come to feel toward him.
Much of the comedy in “The Girl from Monaco” derives not merely from the fish-out-of-water aspect of the scenario, since Bertrand is clearly not in his element in the fleshpot setting of Monaco (although an early scene involving a married woman he’s been romancing shows that he is a ladies’ man of a sort). But even more important is his developing camaraderie with Christophe, with whom he comes to form a very unlikely friendship. The tragedy, on the other hand, is fairly muted early on, centered mostly on Edith Lasalle. But it comes to the fore in the last reel, in a turn involving Bertrand, Christophe and Audrey.
It’s especially in that resolution—which won’t be revealed in detail here—that the picture goes off the rails. The farcical business of the first two-thirds is hardly top-grade, and the relationships aren’t drawn very convincingly. But it’s at the end, with the conclusion of both the Lasalle business and the Audrey-Bertrand affair, that the comedy chokes up and things turn less tragic than tawdry. A coda that tries somehow to justify what’s preceded is given a nice autumnal feel, but on reflection it seems trite and superficial.
The acting is okay—Luchini does his standard smug routine, Zem is persuasively stoic, and while Bourgoin is hardly on the Meryl Streep level, her gorgeousness covers a multitude of thespian sins—and the locales are lovely, well captured in widescreen by cinematographer Patrick Blossier. But ultimately “The Girl From Monaco” comes across as a confection that has gone sour before you’re finished consuming it.