A modest inheritance makes a momentous difference in the life of an unassuming language teacher in "4 Stars." Entertaining comedy is breezy fun for most of its running time, although the tale of a previously submissive young woman who pulls out all the stops in the company of a less than scrupulous wheeler-dealer doesn't always make emotional sense. Still, repartee is snappy and Cannes settings are lensed with panache. Local biz should be encouraging for this May release in Gaul, following its Berlin festival preem.
Irreverent tone is nicely established, as a cranky old biddie on her deathbed confirms the wording of her will: although unimpressed with her great-great niece, she's leaving her savings to her as sole legitimate heir. Giddy over notification of her E52,000 ($64,000) inheritance, France -- known to all as Franssou (Isabelle Carre) -- immediately splits from Paris and her pragmatic b.f., and checks into the Hotel Carlton in Cannes.
She's soaking in the tub when a flamboyant man, radiating rock-solid self-assurance, enters her suite with a hotel employee to verify how well soundproofed the premises are. He's Stephane (Jose Garcia), advance man for Elton John.
When Franssou goes to the bank to pick up her windfall in cash, she overhears the same man -- now going by a different name -- trying to cajole a banker into advancing him a substantial sum; Stephane is a scam artist who relies on the well-timed complicity of bellhops, chambermaids, desk clerks and waiters to sustain his brash facade of wealth. Alas, he's broke and has less than a day before a E30,000 debt comes due.
When Stephane tries to sweet-talk Franssou into fronting him the 30K, she drives a very hard -- and rather creative -- bargain. Comic gears start turning in earnest.
Garcia has charisma and talent to burn as the fast-talking con man but is so convincing as a parasite bent on self-preservation that he lacks something as a love interest. Fetching in a series of flimsy little dresses, Carre shines in the Audrey Hepburn role; but Garcia is no Cary Grant, Gregory Peck or Albert Finney.
For those reluctant to suspend disbelief, Stephane's only obvious plus for Franssou is that he's the polar opposite of her ex-b.f. But while Franssou's finely dosed reverse psychology makes her sparkle, it's unclear for most of pic whether she is out to con a con man or actually finds Stephane sexually attractive.
Francois Cluzet is terrific as Rene, a filthy rich ex-Formula 1 driver whose occupational mishaps have left him about as quick on the uptake as a snail. Cannes locations are nicely utilized.
Camera (color), Helene Louvart; editor, Yves Deschamps; art director, Patrick Durand; costume designer, Carine Sarfati; sound (Dolby), Olivier Mauvezin, Francois Groult; assistant director, Euric Allaire; casting, Frederique Moidon. Reviewed at Elysees Biarritz, Paris, Jan. 22, 2006. (In Berlin Film Festival -- Panorama; in Cannes Film Festival -- market.) Running time: 101 MIN.