Beautiful Lies is a quintessentially French rom-com set in the beautiful coastal town of Sète in southern France. The story centres on a local hairdressing salon run by manager Emilie (Audrey Tautou), a single, independent, young woman and her employee, the handy-man Jean (Sami Bouajila). Jean is secretly enamored with his boss and writes her an anonymous love letter. Emilie seizes upon the letter’s potential to revive the spirits of her broken-hearted mother, Maddy (Nathalie Baye), who is still recovering from her artist husband’s abandonment four years ago.
Maddy is impressed by the beautiful poetry and sentiment of the letter and craves more. So her daughter, not the most eloquent or passionate of people, attempts to write other letters to help her mother’s fragile emotional state. Unfortunately, Jean happens to courier Emilie’s letters to Maddy. Maddy catches him in the act, as it were, and secretly follows him back to Emilie’s salon. Maddy is immediately captivated by Jean and this inspires Emilie to negotiate with Jean to keep her mother happy for the short-term with letters and romantic dates. Jean, still smitten with Emilie, reluctantly agrees. Many intrigues and misunderstanding follow. Jean, Emilie and Maddy are all unwittingly involved in a complicated and quite convoluted love triangle.
The character of Jean is shy, highly educated and endearing, a complete contrast to the manipulative and indifferent Emilie, the object of his affection. The audience feels great sympathy towards his character in the first half of the movie, but he becomes less likable towards the end. Similarly, one can almost sympathize with the character of the Emilie at the beginning, who wants so desperately to help her mother in her time of need. However, the character of Emilie has almost no redeeming features. She is cold, nasty and impersonal. It is very hard to warm to her, despite her good intentions. She plays everyone her like chess pieces and is not deserving of the affections of the kind-hearted and sincere Jean. Maddy likewise starts off vacillating between her true effervescent/free spirit self and that of a bitter woman scorned. Towards the end, we see from where Emilie inherited her manipulative streak.
This film is reminiscent of Tautou and director Pierre Salvodori’s previous collaboration, Priceless (Hors de Prix) which follows a similar caricature-like portrayal of a sweet, sensitive, down and out guy chasing a jaded and aloof beauty.
The real star of the show is the picturesque city of Sète, hometown of famous artists and poets such as Manitas de Platas and Paul Valery. This film had all the potential ingredients of a great romantic comedy: attractive and talented actors, wonderful romantic setting and flashes of genuine charm and wit, however it suffers mostly from a noticeably acerbic streak and predictable storyline.
If you’re after something light and amusing, Beautiful Lies would be a good choice. If, on the other hand, you like more substantial and intellectual French cinema, this would probably leave you flat. It is a beautifully shot and well-acted film, it’s just a pity that the characters and plot were so ill-conceived. Hopefully, the delectable Audrey Tautou will keep her mantle as the ‘Meg Ryan of French cinema’ and chose more flattering roles for herself in future. Sami Bouajila however, is a wonderful discovery and hopefully he will be given more juicy and promising roles in future.
Run-time: 1 hour 45 mins ; Rated M