Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Girl from Monaco

Fortunately, the weather is usually quite nice in Monaco, because their local cable weathercaster is not much of a meteorologist. Still, it is pretty clear why her station hired her as on-air talent. Her beauty also thoroughly seduces and unnerves one of Europe’s top defense attorneys, which leads to deadly serious consequences in Anne Fontaine’s The Girl From Monaco (trailer here), opening this Friday in New York.

Bertrand Beauvois is in the Principality to represent Edith Lassalle, an established member of the community, accused of murdering a local adventurer. Since the alleged victim had reputed ties to the Russian mafia, he reluctantly accepts the round-the-clock bodyguard paid for by his client’s son, who seems a bit shady, himself. However, once he establishes a working relationship with the zealously protective Christophe Abadi, minimizing the constant frisking and perimeter sweeps, he starts admiring his bodyguard’s uncomplicated approach to life.

While Abadi is a man of action, Beauvois has always been a man of words. That has served him well with the law but not in romance. So when Audrey Varella, the local weather lady with an outrageously skimpy wardrobe, initiates a flirtatious relationship, he falls hard. Abadi tries to dissuade the advocate, insisting Varella is bad news, and he should know, considering they were an item at one time.

Monaco coyly keeps secret just what Varella’s intentions truly are regarding the hopelessly smitten Beauvois. She can seem sweetly innocent and coolly manipulative, all at the same time. Regardless, her attentions are not helping Beauvois in the courtroom, so they are perceived as a threat by Abadi.

Fontaine’s approach in Monaco brings to mind some of the films of Claude Chabrol and Claude Miller. It would appear to have all the elements of the noir crime drama, at least according to a strict synopsis of the film. Yet, instead of driving the narrative, those plot devices are de-emphasized in favor of exploring the central characters’ evolving personal dynamics.

Roschdy Zem emerges as the unlikely star of Monaco. Previously seen in reasonably well-distributed imports, like Live and Become and Alias Betty, Zem is an intense screen presence as Abadi, conveying the rough charisma and the potentially dangerous instincts that so impress his client. Fabrice Luchini’s performance as the tragically punctilious Beauvois is also convincingly nuanced, showing the allure of chaos for such a rigorously structured personality. It seems like Fontaine deliberately keeps the true personality and motivations of the lovely, hedonistic Varella a cipher to the audience, but Louise Bourgoin certainly fills out the wild femme fatale costumes very effectively.

Like its lawyer protagonist, Monaco seems breezy and voluble on the surface, but it has a distinct sadness at heart. It is an intriguing drama, elevated by Zem’s electric performance and Bourgoin’s considerable appeal. It opens this Friday (7/3) in New York at the Angelika and Beekman theaters.