French Perfection

the__valet.jpgFive years ago, when The Closet came out, I wrote for indieWire, "Director/writer Francis Veber, 63, who scripted The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe (1972), The Toy (1976), Le cage aux folles (1978), and The Goat (1981), plus wrote and directed last year's hilarious The Dinner Game, (the American remake's planned title is Dinner for Shmucks), has returned with what might turn out to be the funniest film of the year." Ditto for 2007. Yes, ditto does it, because The Valet is as joyous and clever a romp as you'll see on the screen this year. Veber is clearly a master of farce. He loves to take a group of highly self-involved people, throw in a few innocents, stir, and let the comedy bubble forth. Here François Pignon (Gad Elmaleh), an extremely ordinary-looking parking valet for an opulent Paris hotel, is having a devastating week. The woman he loves, Emile (Virginie Ledoyen), a lovely bookshop owner, has just rejected his proposal of marriage. She sees François as a pal, not as a paramour. While ambulating down a boulevard, this disheartened, forsaken, hapless soul unknowingly has his photograph taken next to a billionaire, Levasseur (Daniel Auteuil), and his secret mistress, supermodel Elena (Alice Taglioni). The snapshot immediately makes the tabloids. This spells trouble, but not for François. Industrialist Levasseur's wife Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas) has 60% of his empire in her name. If she can prove that he was unfaithful, the divorce will destroy him. To solve his dilemma, Levasseur discovers the identity of the other man in the dastardly photograph (François) and then pays both François and Elena to live together as a couple for several months to fool Christine. If this wasn't complex enough, Christine hires a detective to see why a supermodel would live with a shlimazldik. Additionally, Levasseur employs some spies to make sure that François doesn't touch Elena, Why? Because he's still obsessed with her. However, Levasseur needn't worry, because François is still in love with Emile, who is finding herself getting jealous of Elena, who is genuinely in love with Levasseur, who has promised to divorce Christine and marry her. This is all just for starters. Yes, one can see Moliére being jealous of the plot line, and Karl Marx applauding. You see capitalists who exploit the masses do not fare too well in this venture. Even with all the eggs in the air here, Veber does not drop one for a second. He has, in the end, created a soufflé that rises and rises, with a superb all-star cast that keeps delivering, especially Alice Taglioni, who doesn't have to try very hard to convince everyone why the world is in love with her. Think of a more diminutive Ursula Andress, and start panting. Which brings me back to my old, but still pertinent, interview with Veber. When I asked him whether French films deal with everyday life in a more honest manner than American ones, he replied, "I think so, but it's hard to make a value judgment about that, you know, because the French have a tendency sometimes to be boring in their films even if they're very interesting. Why? Because they don't mind about pace. They're just thinking of their own pleasure in writing, and not too much of the audience. In America, you have the opposite problem. The films have to be fast-paced all the time. [He snaps his fingers a few times.] You are scared to be boring so you don't give the actors the possibility of performing really because you're going from those quick shots to those quick shots. This is strange because if we could mix the systems, having this intellectual approach that the French have and having this entertaining obligation that the Americans have, the result would be the perfect movie." - Brandon Judell Besides opening for a regular theatrical run, The Valet is part of The Film Society of Lincoln Center and Unifrance USA's 12th Annual Showcase of New French Films which screens Feb. 28-Mar. 11. For more information, go to . brandon.jpgMr. Judell, who's currently teaching "The Image of the Jew in Post-World War II European Cinema" at City College, has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire, Detour, and dozens of other publications.