Fabrice Luchini is one of those French film stars known in America seemingly only to lovers of French film, for performances in “Moliere,” “Intimate Strangers,” “Uranus” and many others.
He’s always a marvel of economy, evincing surprise, anger, cunning, disappointment – all with just a flicker of an eyebrow or a minute down- or upturn of the lips. He gets a deliciously full-bodied role in Anne Fontaine’s “The Girl from Monaco,” as the fulcrum in a seesaw tale of lust and loyalty.
Luchini plays attorney Bertrand Beauvois, a criminal defense attorney defending the mother (Stephane Audran, still ravishing at 76) of a mobster from a murder charge in Monaco. Because of the high-profile nature of the case, the mobster assigns Bertrand an around-the-clock bodyguard (Roschdy Zem) to drive him and keep track of him while he’s in town, which Bertrand resents, feeling that it’s an affectation.
The bodyguard, Christophe, is taciturn and unobtrusive. But Bertrand feels Christophe is either cramping his style or making him feel ridiculously visible. Gradually, however, he comes to appreciate the quiet chaperone’s skills – and connections.
Bored after his days in court, Bertrand starts seeking nightlife, using Christophe as his guide. On one such jaunt, he meets Audrey (Louise Bourgoin), a local TV weather girl who believes her ticket to stardom is an idea for a show about celebrity pets. Bertrand winds up spending a night with her, bristling when Christophe warms him that one night should be enough and that Audrey is bad news.
Instead, Bertrand continues to seek her out, until he’s caught in her spell. She’s less a temptress than a strange blend: at once naïve, wanton and opportunistic. Even as she talks about moving to Paris as Bertrand’s mistress when his case is over, Bertrand falls deeper into confusion, both repelled and attracted by her. Before long, his distraction is interfering with the case.
Fontaine keeps the tone light, yet moves into increasingly dark territory as Bertrand becomes obsessed with the untethered young woman, who seems so unattainable and yet so available at the same time. Luchini’s Bertrand is a man who suddenly finds himself way out of his depth – and Zem’s Christophe is the much-abused watchdog whose job it is to pull him to safety, by whatever means necessary.
While the Bertrand-Audrey relationship is the film’s catalyst, the Bertrand-Christophe connection is its heart. Luchini gradually shifts from dismissive to needy, as Bertrand’s regard for his easily underestimated guardian grows. You can see the new light in which Bertrand sees this quiet, muscular and efficient guard, played with dignified impatience by a wonderfully restrained Zem.
“The Girl from Monaco” is full of surprises, never quite taking you where you expect it to. The chemistry between each pairing of the three principals is surprisingly potent and that’s what makes this film work.