Beautiful Lies or De Vrais Mensonges (or in fact Full Treatment in the USA) is a funny and unique tale of confusion, unrequited love and family relationships with a fantastic triumvirate central cast. With French rom-coms like Heartbreaker and Priceless paving the way, Beautiful Lies crests the wave of this new fun and flirty era in French cinema.
Beautiful Lies stars Audrey Tautou as Emilie (yes Emilie, not Amélie) the owner of a hairdressing salon full of oddball characters situated in the sultry south of France. Emilie receives a passionate hand-written anonymous love letter from shy salon handyman Jean (Sami Bouajila) which she promptly discards; but when she later visits her mother Maddy (Nathalie Baye) and finds her still distraught over the betrayal of Emilie’s father, she hatches a plan to re-send the love letter anonymously to Maddy, to cheer her up. The trick works a little too well, and a rejuvenated Maddy falls head over heels with the sender, eventually believing it to be Jean. As Emilie tries to pay Jean to date her mother and keep up the pretence she finds herself falling for him herself, culminating in an awkward and funny love triangle.
As the first few scenes lit up the screen I was painfully aware that Beautiful Lies might be merely a carbon copy of Amélie, but I soon realised that the film is both paying homage to and actively mocking its well-loved predecessor. It is always good to start laughing from the outset, and scenes making digs at grammatical mistakes, the hairdressing world and French melodrama permeated the trim dialogue throughout, making sure I rarely stopped giggling. The plot is convoluted but by its dénouement all is cleverly unravelled, making for a satisfying conclusion. I even thought the film was going to end 20 minutes before it did, as Beautiful Lies is careful not to tread down the same well worn paths of classic romantic comedies. The leads fall in love with panache and Bouajila’s lovelorn Jean is achingly familiar, but the film feels very modern, commenting on whether fine words or fine figures make for a better match.
Watching a feisty, unhinged and comically hilarious pensioner go through the spectrum of emotion and come out looking and feeling beautiful without seeming cringey is no mean feat, yet between director Pierre Salvadori and luminescent Nathalie Baye (herself a ravishing 63 years of age, and famous for serious work such as Tell No-one) they flesh out a character who is funny and sympathetic in Maddy. But it is Tautou’s expressionism that really make Emilie’s predicament so funny; she inhabits the snake-hipped Emilie exceptionally well, blending slapstick humour with bitter regret. Judith Chemla as dippy assistant Paulette is also hilarious and her wide eyes and alabaster skin marks her as the (much funnier) French equivalent of Zooey Deschanel.
There were a few little bugs in the production, such as where the characters obsessively repeat the contents of the love letters to the point of irritation, and I had to adjust to how Beautiful Lies liked to frequently send itself up with some ridiculously melodramatic scenes. There is also a suggestion that mother and daughter may both be sleeping with the same man, which is quickly glossed over before you can sit back and think ‘Ew’. But these were tiny faults. I laughed, I was moved, I had no idea where the film was going next and I was truly impressed by the comic timing of all involved. The fact that the film was subtitled is by the by.
A tall tale told with beauty and ease featuring a first rate cast makes Beautiful Lies a gorgeous and clever romantic comedy which must be seen to be believed.