“Beautiful Lies”(M) ★ ★ ½

THE news that in her early sixties, after 94 titles and eight awards, French actress Nathalie Baye plays a principal character in Pierre Salvadori’s film delighted me.

Abandoned wife Maddie is slightly off the planet, lonely, needy, with femininity far from its use-by date. The shy handyman Jean (Sami Bouajila) at her daughter Emilie’s (Audrey Tautou) hairdressing salon composes a passionate anonymous letter to Emilie who, by keying it into her word processor then sending it to add sparkle to Maddie’s life, unleashes an uncontrollable monster.

Salvadori compounds the damage by having Emilie send further anonymous letters. They lack the honest passion of Jean’s original.

The problem with telling a lie is that it will almost certainly be discovered.  The screenplay stretches the discovery process beyond its natural elasticity. In that zone, where improbability and credibility battle for supremacy, it reveals Emilie as an unpleasant woman (perhaps justifiably) and Maddie as a victim who will find salvation in an unexpected way.

Tautou may have top billing, but the film belongs to Baye whose straight-faced comic talent is a joy. Alas, the screenplay does not give her enough support.

At Greater Union and Dendy

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