No one does a thriller quite like the French. For anyone used to the predictable realm of the Hollywood version, you should make yourself acquainted with French cinema, in particular French film noir. I would even recommend you start with this film. A mysterious thriller directed by Alain Corneau and set in the realm of high stakes business, Love Crime (Crime d’Amour) is a no-nonsense, steadily paced gem which will hold the attention of even its sceptics.
Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas) is a ruthless executive who will do anything to get ahead. Not only confident in her ability to work a room, she’s also no stranger to manipulating circumstances in her own favour. When she takes Isabelle (Ludivine Sagnier) on as her assistant, she has no issue exploiting her naivety, becoming both a business mentor and confidant for her faithful assistant. Soon however, Isabelle begins to feel overshadowed by her superior, especially when Christine claims Isabelle’s ideas as her own. The younger woman’s attempts to move out of the shadows and prove herself go on to create a feud that quickly escalates to dramatic and dangerous levels.
The big question is: how far will the two women go to fast-track their own careers, and are they underestimating one another’s cunning?
It’s quite refreshing to watch a thriller about the business world which is dominated by a female cast. Scott Thomas and Sagnier take up most of the screen time, with the men pushed back into supporting roles. By the same token though, you could argue it’s more of the same: films with predominantly female casts nearly always end in a cat fight.
Rest assured, this is not a chick flick. Love Crime makes the average movie cat fight look like an affectionate hug. We’re not being subjected to a petty row between two brides fighting over their weddings like Bride Wars, nor even the taut relationship between a fashion magazine’s Editor-in-Chief and her assistant in the Devil Wears Prada. Christine and Isabelle are in a sector usually dominated by men, and the fighting is far from whimsical fun (in fact it’s positively vicious). Rather than mindless fluff, we get an intricate plot with powerful performances and clever writing that assumes the audience are smart. In the end I found myself almost admiring the tenacity of the two leads.
English-speaking audiences can sometimes overlook a film which requires them to read subtitles, because it means they have to pay close attention in order to follow what’s happening. And considering how dialogue heavy Love Crime is, it might be understandable. However, a dubbed version would lose its impact, because in this case the subtitles, far from impeding the viewing experience, add to the mood and help engross us in the plot.
As for the performances of the cast I’m going to make a confession. Prior to watching this film, I did not know Kristin Scott Thomas could speak French. Which sounds ridiculous now I think it over. Especially as I knew it was a French film. She’s just one of those actresses who is so low key, you simply admire her from afar and enjoy her performances. I was fascinated by her dialogue for the first 10 minutes during which she creates a vindictive harpy that is utterly believable, until I became satisfied by her fluency. Once I was over the initial shock though, I was able to appreciate the intricacies of her layered performance. She plays Christine as the silently intimidating and manipulative executive with an air of ease.
It was Ludivine Sagnier (Swimming Pool/ Peter Pan) who I was most impressed with though. She’s one of those actresses who is extremely underrated. Having been working for over two decades now, she deserves much praise for her performance. In Isabelle’s transition from naïve and fresh-faced junior to the confident and ruthless trickster she proves herself to be is subtle and gripping.
It’s a great film. It might not set the box office on fire, and there are moments which seem a little implausible, but overall it’s well worth overlooking these minor moments, in favour of working out the twist. I figured it out eventually, despite the film’s attempts to throw me off track. To its credit though, I did ponder through many theories before settling on the final one. Let’s see if you work it out too.
Love Crime is out in UK cinemas on Friday, 14 December.