Beautiful Lies once again reunites Audrey Tautou with director Pierre Salvadori (Priceless) for what on the surface appears to be another slice of delightfully whimsical French comedy – but which unfortunately hides a dark secret!
Thirty year old Emilie (Audrey Tautou) runs a stylish salon in keeping with her glamorous appearence. She has a relatively peaceful life, however, her mothers deteriorating mental condition is starting to cause some concerns. Maddy (Emilie’s mother), has so far failed to recover from her husband’s departure, a pretentious sculptor, who left her four years ago. Maddy has developed a mild form of agoraphobia, unable to connect with anyone on an emotional level due to the hurt inflicted by this marital betrayal and has chosen to hide from the world behind the walls of her palatial mansion. Emilie is aware that her father has now moved on and is about to have a child with his young fiancé, a woman much younger than Emilie and understands that his desire to finalise the divorce will destroy her mother. A solution to this dilema soon presents itself to Emilie in the form of a random declaration of love delivered to her place of work on one seemingly uneventful morning.
The note is from Jean, a highly educated man who has become disenfranchised with life, chosing to take refuge in a job as a handyman within Emilie’s beauty salon. He’s deeply infatuated with Emilie, constantly observing her from afar and expresses his secret passion through this heartfelt poetic love letter. Emilie is less than enraptured by its sentiment and initially disregards this confession of adoration but after a worrying rendezvous with her mother decides to use its prose to create a love letter intended to reignite Maddy’s dwindling outlook on relationships. However, things soon get out of hand and this seemingly innocent little white lie, designed with the best of intentions, eventually results in an inevitable and cringe worthy series of events which look set to turn this unconventional love triangle into a toxic relationship that will surely end in tears.
The first noticeable element of Beautiful Lies is its bright and colourful cinematography. Seemingly filmed through a collection of deep romantic reds and Mediterranean blues, this tale of lies and deception creates a comfortable atmosphere from which its whimsical premise can flourish.
Fans of French comedies will warm to this challenging approach to romance and find its similar aesthetic to films such as Priceless, Amelie and 8 Women familiar, even if the story reveals itself to be little more than a lacklustre attempt to recapture the magic of these hugely popular influences.
The film’s cast perform their roles with as much panache as physically possible, with a script which leaves little room for its peripheral characters to spread their wings. Yet, through some well placed one liners and some lovingly enthusiastic delivery, these lesser players still manage to shine amongst a narrative dynamic which never flinches its spotlight from it’s triumvirate of characters who, seem to be ever present, displaying a natural yet, light-hearted demeanour which helps endears themselves to the audience.
Audrey Tautou has once again been cast by Salvadori as a deceitful opportunist and femme fatal, however, her radiant beauty and strikingly hypnotic gaze has again prevented her from becoming an unlikeable villain. In fact it’s the casting of Tautou (and to a lesser extent Nathalie Baye as Maddy, who despite some melodramatic turns, manages to keep her character grounded in realism) which saves the film from falling into mediocrity and simply becoming a gloryfied cinematic equivalent of a poorly conceived and formulaic TV comedy.
The central flaw of Beautiful Lies has to be its plot. From the moment we witness Emilie remove this disregarded love letter from the bin and re type it upon her Apple Mac we know full well how things will play out, the only surprise being just how obviously it all unfolds, with each set piece concluding exactly as expected. Combine this with the film’s convenient ending, pointlessly tacked onto the narrative to add some unnecessary romantic closure and you have a story so embarrisingly unbelievable ( and so shamefully predictable) that the heightened interest achieved at the film’s gloriously quaint opening is soon quashed under the unbearable weight of its own whimsy.
The second act plays out like an extended sitcom which has ran for one too many seasons, however, this tale of maddening obsession isn’t equipped with enough humour to fully hold the audience’s attention for the film’s lengthy runtime. A noticeable lag towards the end of the film (as the jokes recedes to reveal the film’s inevitable tragic moment of revelation) is just one example of this over extended set piece being dragged out for far too long.
Unfortunately, Beautiful Lies feels like a wasted opportunity. After the much earned success of Priceless this combination of two of France’s most revered cinematic icons should have been something to celebrate, however, its tame approach is ultimately little more than a disappointment.
The film’s message that it’s difficult to maintain a relationship based on lies seems ironically applicable. Beautiful Lies deceptively allows you to fall for its false facade before you even enter the theatre. The film’s advertising promises the second coming of Amelie (or at least a quaint, bijou version of this unique film) a fact instantly noticeable from its flamboyant trailers and carefully quoted movie posters. So whilst in no way ‘terrible’, Beautiful Lies’ obvious attempt to cash in on the quirkiness of Amelie (and its appalling failure to do so) culminates in an unimpressive, trite and sadly unnecessary film.
Beautiful Lies is in cinemas 12th August 2011.
Director: Pierre Salvadori
Stars: Audrey Tautou, Nathalie Baye, Sami Bouajila
RUntime: 105 min