Love Crime (Sundance Selects, R)

Director Alain Corneau brilliantly sets up the film’s central conflict, which is based not simply on Christine being threatened by Isabelle’s talent, but on the obvious fact that Christine is in love with Isabelle.

 

There is something fascinating about films that depict people trying to survive in their professional lives. Office Space is one of the most famous examples of a movie about all the little things that can annoy us at work, and even The Devil Wears Prada did a good job of capturing what it’s like to work for a cruel and unrelenting boss (thanks mostly to Meryl Streep’s exceptional performance).

The French film Love Crime takes a much darker look at the pressures and indignities that we have probably all suffered. In the film, Isabelle (Ludivine Sagnier) is an eager and intelligent young executive who looks up to her strong and successful boss, Christine (Kristen Scott Thomas). The two work in a beautiful and modern office building overlooking Paris, and for the most part get on just fine. (Their profession is irrelevant as it could easily be switched with any number of corporations.)

Problems begin when Isabelle proposes an idea to Christine and then catches her passing the idea off as her own to the clients. Christine very innocently tells Isabelle that this is just how things go. Tension escalates when Isabelle strikes up a flirtatious relationship with Christine’s occasional sex buddy, Philippe (Patrick Mille). This results in Christine ruthlessly embarrassing Isabelle in front of the entire office, sparking a flame of hatred within Isabelle that quickly grows out of control.

Director Alain Corneau brilliantly sets up the film’s central conflict, which is based not simply on Christine being threatened by Isabelle’s talent, but on the obvious fact that Christine is in love with Isabelle. Since she knows Isabelle will not feel the same way, Christine tries to make Isabelle hurt the way she hurts. We also get the feeling that when she belittles Isabelle or takes credit for her work that she is trying to convince herself that Isabelle isn’t worthy of her love. Unfortunately, she is unable to convince herself.

The film takes an interesting and surprising turn in the second half and Corneau presents the action in a way that we aren’t sure if it is a dream, a fantasy, or reality. As a director, he is adept at setting up and filming scenes where little dialogue is needed to understand what is happening or will happen. Isabelle puts into action a plan that seems both reckless and brilliant and we as the audience aren’t sure which it is until the very end. Corneau borrows heavily from films like The Usual Suspects and even Ocean’s 11 in the way he reveals information which at first seems irrelevant but eventually proves integral.

Sagnier gives a wonderfully confident performance in the film. Though she verges on melodrama early on, when Isabelle transforms into a woman fueled only by revenge, Sagnier brilliantly plays with the audience and we are never sure what the truth is. Where she excels, though, is in not allowing her beauty (which is significant) interfere or distract from her performance. This is not something every actress can do.

For her part, Scott Thomas is brilliant as the jealous, conflicted woman in power who doesn’t know how to manage her own emotions. Known both in France and America as reliable and always terrific, Scott Thomas once again proves that she is one of the most talented actors working today. Instead of making Christine just a caricature of all the terrible bosses we’ve all had, she gives the character heart and reasons for her actions, which, though they are not forgivable, are at least understandable.

Love Crime is a very deliberately paced and brilliantly written thriller that will resonate with most, if not all, audiences. Though the film starts off slow, it builds on each minor incident and eventually unleashes a torrent of passion. | Matthew Newlin

 

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