In France, the slang term for pimp is “maquereau.” In Kim Chapiron’s “La Creme de la creme,” a group of super-competitive French business-school students get a lesson in what sounds like “macro economics,” starting a prostitution ring that pairs eager young women with their socially awkward classmates. Loosely inspired by true events, then given a high-fantasy Hollywood-style polish in the retelling, this hip pic should have no trouble seducing young auds in Gaul, but proves surprisingly tame for export (with very little nudity, despite the racy subject), where a more risque treatment might have paid serious dividends on VOD.
Considering the sexually uninhibited reputation French movies have abroad, a shrewd distributor might be able to bait-and-switch audiences into taking this for an edgier Bret Easton Ellis-style satire of self-destructive bright young things. Truth be told, the film already feels like the American remake of itself, boasting a super-pro, TV-commercial-quality level of production, a great soundtrack and a cast of talented fresh faces, all working in service of a relatively conservative sensibility where naughty kids sell sex for the thrill of it, but spend their own time looking for love (as the ballsy but bogus last scene makes clear).
As in the open market, business school is driven by competition, putting at considerable disadvantage the outsiders who don’t fit into the school’s club system, which divides the most outgoing students into fraternity-style social groups. For Benjamin Braddock-esque Dan (Thomas Blumenthal) and his eager-to-get-laid roommate, Jaffar (Karim Ait M’Hand), the only girl (Alice Isaaz) who pays them any attention claims to be a lesbian. But she also has a solution, colluding with Dan and slightly more popular rich kid Louis (Jean-Baptiste Lafarge) to arrange a date for Jaffar to lose his virginity.
Though they have effectively set foot in the world’s oldest profession, the enterprising trio — sans Jaffar, whom they allow to believe he scored on his own — have pioneered a new angle on prostitution, hiding behind the front of a cigar lovers’ society. Isaaz’s clinically detached Kelly (who’s a dead ringer for Ellen Page) approaches the ladies, making them a simple economic proposition: Why waste their time working lousy jobs when they could earn big money dating business-school students? Meanwhile, Dan and Louis line up the johns, pitching a stress-free way to get their first time out of the way, then closing the deal like seasoned salesman.
Snappily written and fast-paced enough that it’s easy to roll with the entirely-too-casual way these characters operate, “Creme” follows in the vein of such cocky fun-while-it-lasts outings as “21” (MIT students try to outsmart Vegas) and “The Bling Ring” (spoiled teens loot the houses of absentee celebrities). However, while the tone seems carefree, the film also serves as a rather disturbing indictment of the higher education system in France, where the chosen ones who make the cut at top biz schools are free to behave in wild and unethical ways, assured of the fact that elite finance posts will be handed to them after graduation — a small-pond version of America’s Ivy League dynamic. (Producer Pierre-Ange Le Pogam plays the headmaster.) No less unnerving is the way these kids have reduced romance to just another transaction, as indicated in some of the script’s juicier scenes.
“La Creme de la creme” is the sort of lark that plays best to unfledged viewers, not because its characters are themselves young — not to mention damn fine actors for their age — but rather because the broad strokes of the plot will seem all too familiar to those who’ve seen enough movies. Collaborating with next-big-thing screenwriter Noe Debre (who apprenticed under Thomas Bidegain), Chapiron has created a slick, pseudo-cautionary Icarus story, where three essentially likable dirtbags — future wolves of Wall Street, perhaps — singe their wings while flying too close to the sun. But really, the helmer delivers the thrill of the ride, and rather than seeing the film through to the end, he lets things hang on a high note.