The late French director Alain Corneau’s final film is real doozy. It has love, lust, jealousy, sex, and murder, but these sordid emotions and acts are just a sideshow to the cutthroat corporate combat at the heart of this psychological thriller.
In the first few minutes of Love Crime, it is established that Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas), the chief executive of the Paris branch of an American multinational corporation, is a monster, and Isabelle (Ludivine Sagnier), her assistant, is a sap. In due course, we are shown the extent of the boss’ selfishness and villainy, and of the underling’s self-delusion. Other characters pass in and out of the story: a shifty accountant who toys with both women, a colleague who tries to point out Isabelle’s errors in judgment, a couple of American higher-ups who drop in via video or jet to shake things up, cloaking every insult or compliment in false bonhomie.
It’s a chilly world, but thoroughly enjoyable to visit for two reasons. One, it’s impossible not to be drawn in by the lead performances: Watching Scott Thomas’s Christine, an elegant and cruel aristocrat, alternately pet and punish Sagnier’s Isabelle, an out-of-her-class working gal, is riveting. The audience can’t resist the suspense, wondering when the worm is going to turn. Two, the film takes the approach of a documentary report, detailing the appalling but fascinating goings on with clinical impartiality.
Then, at a certain point, everything changes.
The rug is pulled from under the audience. The storytelling becomes evasive. Just as we realize that we’ve misunderstood much of what we’ve been shown thus far, we’re forced to guess why the characters we thought we knew are behaving so strangely. And to throw a little more cold water on the proceedings, the soundtrack, which has been largely music-free, is suddenly saturated with an entirely too cheerful kind of jazz.
It’s a heck of a switch, from “whodunit” to “whydunit,” but Love Crime (and the wondrous Sagnier) continues to compel our attention right down to the twist—double twist?—ending.
Don’t wait for Love Crime to be remade by Hollywood. If it is, the story will be gutted—of necessity. In America, we like definitive conclusions. The guilty are exposed and punished; retribution is meted out to the wicked. France may or may not be a more sophisticated society, but it certainly has been around a lot longer; this may explain why the French, in their entertainments, happily accept that evil endures.