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The Valet

From France, A Sweetly Seductive Farce

Pierre (Daniel Auteuil) has a problem. His wife is convinced that he’s cheating, with good reason; his supermodel mistress is tired of waiting for a divorce; and the paparazzi are following him all over Paris, hoping to ensnare him in a tempestuous scandal. What’s a philandering tycoon to do?

Throw money at the problem, of course. Pierre pays François (Gad Elmaleh), a sad-sack parking attendant, to publicly court his mistress, hoping to throw off his wife’s scent and preserve his fortune. It’s not that simple -- Pierre’s wife, who owns a majority share in the company he runs, knows about the affair and his complicated ruse. So she toys with him, watching with devilish glee as he backs himself into an impossible corner.

Remarkably, François doesn’t fall for Elena (Alice Taglioni), the down-to-earth model whose heart belongs, rather inexplicably, to Pierre. (He’s rich, yes, but also a sniveling, duplicitous coward, and she isn’t after his money.) Instead, he gains some much-needed confidence and finally convinces his childhood sweetheart to marry him. Elena, meanwhile, counsels him in the art of romance and reconsiders her own troubled relationship.

The Valet, written and directed by Francis Veber (La Cage Aux Folles), is a sweet-natured screwball comedy -- slight and somewhat familiar, perhaps, but no less a pleasure. It exists in a topsy-turvy universe where sensible people thrust themselves into situations too absurd to be believed, and react to them with straight faces. It’s old-fashioned farce, seductively rendered and elegantly paced, and these days, that’s a rare thing indeed.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars