Adding a fresh new garter strap to Gallic cinema’s longstanding fetish for the world’s oldest profession, Josiane Balasko’s “A French Gigolo” turns one male prostitute’s troubled career into a well-tempered dramedy of human sentiments. Bittersweet tale of a tender beau de jour and his sticky affair with an older, cynical divorcee features impressive performances by thesps Eric Caravaca and Nathalie Baye that are all heart with little naked flesh. French release has seen decent action so far, and Gaumont should look to pimp this one overseas.
Pic reps a promising comeback for actress-writer-helmer Balasko, best known locally for her gruff onscreen antics in the highly popular “Les Bronzes” comedies. Based on her 2005 novel, the narrative eschews the usual farcical style of her recent, less convincing stage-to-screen adaptations, and offers up a nuanced study of love-for-sale among two distinct classes of French society.
When thirtysomething working-class hustler Marco (Caravaca) meets middle-aged infomercial star Judith (Baye) in a public park, what could be mistaken for a typical Parisian pickup turns out to be strictly business. Still getting over a rough divorce, Judith pays Marco for a quick bout of expensive pleasure, exasperating her bachelorette sister, Irene (Balasko).
What’s supposed to be a one-time job for Marco soon turns into a weekly affair, stretching beyond the confines of the bedroom into more emotional territory. The growing liaison with Judith begins to takes its toll on Marco’s marriage to spry hairdresser Fanny (Isabelle Carre), with whom he lives in a cramped public apartment shared by Fanny’s single mother (Catherine Hiegel) and goth sister (Marilou Berry, daughter of Balasko).
Opening reels, at once comic and melancholic, reveal the deep chasm separating Judith’s wealthy but romantically vacuous existence and Marco’s troubled but loving relationship with Fanny, who’s unaware of his secret profession. When Fanny learns the truth, the script takes several surprising turns, focusing less on the predictable quid pro quo than on the way each woman uses Marco’s prostitution to serve her own needs.
Caravaca (“Son frere,” “Monsieur Ibrahim”) works wonders as the charming, simpatico Marco, whose sweet smile and teddy-bear build really seem better suited for cuddling than lovemaking. Baye gives a solid, underhanded perf, bringing out the wounded-animal side beneath her character’s hard shell. Balasko and George Aguilar (playing Irene’s Native American squeeze) dish out most of the pic’s heartfelt laughs.
Tech credits are functional, with Robert Alazraki’s camera doing little beyond faithfully capturing the all-around fine performances. Booming hip-hop soundtrack by DJ/rapper Kore accompanies exteriors shot in Paris’ infamously rough suburbs.