French romantic comedies are the art-house import equivalent of pimped-out Hollywood blockbusters. Both appeal to a wide and diffuse target audience — moderately cultured bourgeois and pop thrill seekers — and both are basically critic-proof. Where Michael Bay obliterates scrutiny with fireballs and shiny screeching machinery, French comedies gently neutralize through learned banter, exotic settings, and scantily clad gamines. The machine works something like this: an older gentleman clicks into place across from a fresh face, situational laughter is achieved while clothes teasingly peel away, a titillating trailer cuts itself, Denby reviews for the New Yorker, and decent money is made. Though Anne Fontaine follows the formula with The Girl from Monaco, she also tweaks it a bit, and her modifications make the film at least formally intriguing.
Pie-faced comedian Fabrice Luchini plays Bertrand, a veteran high-powered defense attorney relocated to Monaco for a notorious murder case. For protection a bodyguard, Christophe (Roschdy Zem), is hired to shadow Bertrand throughout the long trial, and his vocational intensity at first unnerves his mild, measured charge. But slowly a codependence develops, and the proverbial odd couple forms an unlikely friendship. Bertrand is fascinated by, and comes to rely on Christophe’s bold, no-nonsense problem solving, and Christophe feeds off of Bertrand’s reliance. Things get complicated, as they are wont, when a saucy TV weathergirl, Audrey (Louise Bourgoin, a version of perfection poised between cartoon and robot) becomes improbably enamored of Bertrand. Is she a social climber, a femme fatale, a schemer out to make former flame Christophe jealous, or actually in love?
Click here to read the rest of Eric Hynes’s review of The Girl from Monaco.