Leave it to the prose – Beautiful Lies review

Beautiful LiesStarring Audrey Tautou, Nathalie Baye and Sami Bouajila. Directed by Pierre Salvadori. Rated M. By Hilary Simmons.

There’s always something to like about French films. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. Perhaps it’s the picturesque settings; the way the camera lingers lovingly on cobbled squares and narrow paved streets, the sudden corners and lace curtains in lattice windows. Perhaps it’s the intrigue of dubious subtitling, or maybe it’s the musical cadences of the language itself. Even when the plot is predictable, French films are beautiful and perplexing: never disappointing.

This is exactly how Jean (Sami Bouajila) describes Emilie (Audrey Tautou) when, anonymously, he writes her a love letter. Far too cynical and fond of brash red nail polish to be susceptible to its florid prose, Emilie throws it in the bin. As a hardened hair salon owner – to her, Jean is merely the hired handyman – she scornfully supposes this unsigned letter was penned by someone very, very old.

Emilie’s mother, on the other hand, has been depressed and love-deprived ever since separating from her husband. After a dismal coffee date with her, Emilie has a bright idea. Actually, it’s not a bright idea, it’s a terrible one. Emilie retrieves Jean’s trashed letter, retypes it, and sends it off to her mum, figuring that the thought of a secret admirer will restore her “joie-de-vivre”.  Romantic confusion and utter chaos ensues.

If Beautiful Lies sounds like a film you’ve seen before, that’s because it is. Director Pierre Salvadori quite knowingly pokes fun at its similarities to Amelie; but thanks to trim dialogue and a beautiful seaside setting, his film has equivalent charm. The plot is a little contrived, but Salvadori draws a good performance out of Tautou (he directed her in Priceless), and Nathalie Baye, playing the part of the mother infatuated by the prospect of a passionate lover, has comic talent to burn. There’s a nice touch of nastiness and narcissism to both female characters, and Bouajila plays the pathologically shy Jean with agonising precision. The ways in which one little white lie – or one piece of white paper – escalates into a confounding case of mistaken identity is captivating and quirky: never disappointing.

3.5/5

Beautiful Lies arrives on DVD in Australia December 1, 2011.

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