Valet Girl: Supermodel Elena has eyes for everyman François.

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Because he speaks the international language of splat and kerplunk, French writer-director Francis Veber has done better in the U.S. market than his artier countrymen. A dozen or so of his comedies have been released here, including English-language remakes designed as vehicles for funnymen such as Tom Hanks and, uh, Nick Nolte. Veber’s latest is yet another farce, but it pushes the slapstick to the background. The Valet is a slight, sweet, and surprisingly earnest comedy of manners in which, unsurprisingly, the poor behave better than the rich. Exemplifying the spoiled upper crust is Pierre (a weasely Daniel Auteuil), who runs an industrial conglomerate and dallies with supermodel Elena (Alice Taglioni). Elena wants Pierre to leave his wife, but Christine (a French-fluent Kristin Scott Thomas) controls the company, so a divorce would financially destroy him. This conflict becomes a crisis when a paparazzo photo of Pierre and Elena appears in a Paris newspaper. Luckily for Pierre, another person is in the shot: an average guy (Gad Elmaleh), who works as a parking valet at a swanky restaurant overlooking the Eiffel Tower. He, of course, is named François Pignon, Veber’s customary moniker for Jacques Q. Public. To throw Christine off his adulterous trail, Pierre has his lawyer make a deal with François to pose as Elena’s lover. The valet is reluctant but agrees in exchange for the cash to pay the debt owed by the woman he wants to marry, Emilie (Virginie Ledoyen, underused but winning as ever). A small-bookstore owner and François’ childhood pal, Emilie doesn’t think of the valet romantically, but when she sees him with glamorous Elena, jealousy converts her fondness to passion. Veber handles all this and more with a dispatch that borders on the abrupt; Emilie, François, and Pierre all get what they deserve, and Elena proves to be the most magnanimous of sex goddesses. Indeed, it’s benevolence—and assured performances—that distinguishes The Valet. This mild-mannered satire is short on laughs, but its humane outlook earns a smile.