Trial and eros

“Don’t worry, I’ll send you positive vibes,” said the beauty to the beast. But the thoughts that the girl from Monaco inspires in the head of her aged and unalluring (but sympathetic) barrister beau are hardly the sort that will bring him success in his career-making murder trial.

Parisian attorney Bertrand Beauvois (Luchini) has come to Monaco to defend a woman charged with killing a Russian mobster in a crime of passion. Not that you’d see that coming based on The Girl From Monaco’s opening credits, during which the camera skims the coastal country’s architecture to the tune of “L-O-V-E.” (Is this a French erotic thriller, or a surprise Hanks-Ryan reunion?) The song selection is indeed gag-inducing, but it provides an apt preamble for Beauvois’s first besotted onscreen exchange. At night, on a deserted stone street bathed in absinthe-green light both ambient and sickening, Beauvois reveals his greatest weakness: He is easily love-struck, particularly where blondes are involved.

The Girl From Monaco
Dir. Anne Fontaine; writ. Benoît Graffin;
feat. Roschdy Zem, Fabrice Luchini,
Louise Bourgoin, Gilles Cohen,
Jeanne Balibar (R)

Murder does muck up such pursuits, and more so if your stupid client’s gone and killed the wrong stupid Russian. Love — even of the one-night variety — can’t effortlessly penetrate the six-foot perimeter a hired bodyguard named Christophe (Zem) keeps secured around Beauvois. But the girl from Monaco can.

To describe the “girl” — called Audrey Varella (Bourgoin) — as a reality-TV-star-turned-weathergirl doesn’t really do justice to the personal and professional peril a woman such as herself is capable of wreaking. For in her Barbie body, the doe-eyed Beauvois sees the beating heart of a free-loving manic pixie dream girl, the kind of creature who believes in karma and astrology and holds the promise of changing his sad-sack single life. And really, who is Beauvois not to put his work assignments in jeopardy for a shot at a woman who prances around in a wardrobe that can only be epitomized as Malibu-meets-Ice Capades? It’s good enough for James Bond — though for Bond, of course, it never is a longshot.

Bond would probably benefit from the kind of male companionship that Christophe — an Obama ringer if I ever saw one — provides Beauvois. The ever-relaxing, if pithy, conversations between the two nudge the film into the jurisdiction of comedic drama rather than thriller, even as they establish an emotional ménage à trios among the men and Audrey.

To say that writer-director Anne Fontaine’s film wanders from genre to genre doesn’t exalt her (and Benoit Graffin’s) screenplay, but their transparent lift of the trio relationship from Simone de Beauvoir’s She Came to Stay is an inspired move. The performances of her fine actors — who navigate the ambiguity of the material in addition to the volatility of their characters’ connections without ever looking as though they are in different films — speak volumes for her ability to direct.

Still, because The Girl From Monaco is really about a life trial, not a murder trial, it’s a pity Fontaine didn’t keep her camera out of the courtroom. The truly provocative quandary is not what the outcome of Beauvois’s case will be. On the contrary: If the positive-vibing stock character that American indie filmmakers (and Woody Allen) are so fond of can make a man’s life, how completely can a self-aware manic pixie break it? Love may ultimately lift Beauvois up where he belongs, but not as I suspected it would.


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