Following a breakdown, multi-lingual Jean quits his job as a UNESCO translator to become handyman at Emilie's hair salon. Smitten by her he writes her a love letter but she thinks it comes from an elderly admirer and sends it on to her mother Maddy, who needs cheering after her husband left. Eventually Maddy comes to the conclusion that Jean is her secret admirer and Emilie plays up to this to keep her mother content and sane. When Emile tells the truth neither Maddy or Jean are pleased but love eventually finds a way to make them all happy.Written by
don @ minifie-1
Set in a world of perpetual sunshine in the south of France, BEAUTIFUL LIES (DE VRAIS MENSONGES) has a plot with distinct echoes of CYRANO DE BERGERAC. Former UNESCO translator Jean (Sami Bouajila), now working in a hairdressing salon, writes an anonymous love-letter to owner Emilie (Audrey Tautou). Although not knowing who the author is, Emilie convinces her mother Maddy (Nathalie Baye) that the letter has been written for her mother's benefit: Emilie subsequently writes two more anonymous love-letters for her mother, pretending that they have come from the same author as the first letter. Further complications ensue, but the story ends happily enough.
Pierre Salvadori's film looks at the gulf separating words from meanings: what the characters say - either in written or spoken discourse - and what they actually mean are often two different things. This is especially true of Emilie, who convinces herself that she is acting in her mother's best interests, but ends up being utterly self-absorbed. Her narcissistic nature is summed up by the frequency of shots where she sits in her office, a bottle of vodka in hand, trying to pen new love-letters for her mother. Emilie comes across as a basically unattractive person; in the pre-credit sequence she is shown cutting the fringe off one of her customer's (Cécile Boland's) hair, even though the customer specifically insists otherwise.
By comparison, Maddy is meant to be represented as an innocent victim - unable to come to terms with her ex-husband's (Daniel Duval's) decision to leave her for a younger woman, her life is in pieces, as she sits on the sofa in a nightdress. The prospect of a younger man falling in love with her gives her renewed energy, so much so that, even when Emilie tells her the truth, Maddy still invites Jean round for a romantic dinner for two. But here's the rub - at the end of the evening she decides to bed Jean, while being perfectly aware of his feelings for Emilie. We are left to wonder why: is Maddy taking revenge on her daughter, or is she at heart as self-interested as Emilie?
For the first four-fifths of DE VRAIS MENSONGES, director Salvadori creates a light-as-gossamer romantic comedy with serious undertones in which gesture assumes as much significance as word. The shot/reverse shot sequences involving Emilie and Jean, where the two of them try their best not to disclose their true feelings for one another, are beautifully handled, as is the sequence where Emilie's tongue-tied employee Paulette (Judith Chemla) tries her best to explain something to Emilie while not looking her in the eye. The ending, however, is a bit of a cop-out - although order is restored, we are left to ponder the (lack of) moral scruples influencing the characters' behavior, even that of Jean. One wonders precisely how women are viewed in this apparently liberal society.
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