A sampling of residents in the prosperous city of Lyon reluctantly confront their ingrained attitudes toward money in “The Cost of Living.” Bittersweet comedy plays like a big jigsaw puzzle in which a few of the pieces fit far more readily than others: Some situations are a dime-a-dozen; others are priceless. How filthy lucre molds or twists our behavior is a topic of universal interest, making this exceedingly French, non-judgmental look at dough a rich possibility for fests.
The French happily talk about sex but money, for most, remains taboo. (For example, when Jean-Marie Messier published his autobiography two years ago, no French review failed to register surprise that he revealed his salary in print, as if such details, while fascinating, were slightly sordid.) If this pic and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s recent “It’s Easier for a Camel…” are any indication, a mini-genre may be blossoming in which the fact that money is also a “natural” part of everybody’s life may at last be treated sans kid gloves.
Pic from scripter-helmer Philippe Le Guay (“Trois Huit”/ “Nightshift”) aspires to be a sort of “Short Cuts” as characters from several walks of life do and don’t intersect. Result sometimes feels more like a series of accomplished preliminary sketches than a carefully curated portrait gallery. That said, thesps are dandy at embodying an impressive range of money-related neuroses and phobias, balanced with the occasional healthy approach.
Fastidious, well-to-do bachelor Brett (Fabrice Luchini, spot-on) is so tight-fisted he goes through torture every time he attempts to pick up a check or offer a gift. For those who subscribe to Freud, it follows that Brett is horribly constipated. Through nicely constructed serendipity, he may loosen up under the tutelage of Helena (Geraldine Pailhas), a high-priced call girl.
Helena banks every cent at the same establishment where local restaurateur Coway (Vincent Lindon) is catastrophically overdrawn. Coway’s loving girlfriend Milene (Camille Japy) is expecting their first child. He’s been lying to her about buying the space for a second eatery, but Coway is such a jaunty, convincing fellow that Milene thinks the tax inspector (Bernard Bloch) who keeps trying to seize their possessions is one of Coway’s investors.
After the wake-up call of emergency by-pass surgery, Nicolas de Blamond (Claude Rich), a captain of industry, has decided to simply shut down his business empire, cavalierly throwing thousands of people out of work.
More often than not, narrative suggests that not only does money not buy happiness but that too much ready cash can actually impede joy. Ambitious if imperfect ensemble leaves an agreeable impression that it’s rarely too late to take full responsibility for the coins in one’s pockets and the unexpressed love in one’s heart.