Vet provocateur Bertrand Blier finds a topic that fits his outsized theatricality in “How Much Do You Love Me?,” about an office worker who uses a lottery windfall to entice a prostitute into domestic bliss. Blier’s take on beauty vs. shleppiness, mercenary seduction vs. true romance, and cash as a motivating factor in sexual desire is thoroughly enjoyable, if slightly protracted. As the pragmatic hooker, Monica Bellucci is ideally utilized to beguile, titillate and get the intellect firing. Local and offshore auds should fall for this one, ending the recent B.O. drought (“Les acteurs,” “Les cotelettes”) for Blier’s movies.
Helmer’s stylized dialogue is probably the French language’s answer to David Mamet: It takes a special actorly knack to imbue it with depth while skirting silliness. For those who buy into Blier’s style, touching — and funny — human truths come shining through.
Balding, elfin-eared Francois (Bernard Campan) enters a hooker-in-the-window joint in Paris’ Pigalle district and speaks with fur coat-clad looker Daniela (Bellucci). Her favors can be had for 150 euros ($180) and a usurious bottle of champagne.
Unlike William H. Macy’s character in the Mamet-penned “Edmond,” Francois doesn’t balk at the price. Instead, he reveals he’s just won a fortune in France’s tax-free lotto and he’ll be happy to give her 100,000 euros a month to live with him until the dough runs out. Daniela accepts. But in what could be a recipe for either ecstasy or disaster, Francois has a heart condition and Daniela has an unnerving gangster boyfriend (Gerard Depardieu, acting with aplomb).
Bellucci’s curves and Italian accent are effective shorthand for what men crave, so writer-director Blier doesn’t have to waste any time convincing viewers how a guy could covet Daniela and yearn to possess her. (Helmer wrote script with Bellucci in mind.) The fact that she’s a hooker implies that any man with the necessary cash can have her. But even though a guy can touch her skin, can he also get under it?
In a rousingly choreographed ballet of fluctuating allegiances, exquisitely-lit thesps proclaim their love, exude menace, and acquiesce and resist with aplomb. Stand-out riffs include a monologue on love by Francois’ mopey physician pal, Andre (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), and a verbal catfight between Daniela and an irate neighbor (Farida Rahouadj), who contends that any broad who makes that much noise in the sack must be faking it.
Widescreen lensing is aces. Score of opera and jazz excerpts is used with wild assurance to punctuate and enhance the larger-than-life, agreeably audacious proceedings.