Uneventful Manipulation; Boring Outcome
Starring: Ludivine Sagnier, Kristin Scott Thomas
Review written by Robert Patrick
Alain Corneau’s swansong is a little bit of Scooby Doo, a whole lot of melodrama, and a little bit of repressed erotica. “Love Crime”, at its core, is about Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas), a stiff-lipped big wig of a multinational company whose manipulative and serpentine tongue wags viciously. Christine’s protege, the young and naive Isabelle (Ludivine Sagnier), is quick witted and trigger happy when it comes to closing lucrative deals. If Christine is the fangs behind the company, Isabelle is the venom. The two work together, closely, until Isabelle realizes that she should get some of the credit. The malevolent and icy Christine, thinking otherwise, sets in motion several duplicitous acts that undermine Isabelle’s name at the business. Public humiliation, blackmail, sexual provocation are some of the ruthless parlor games that Christine plays with Isabelle.
The movie basks in pyschosexuality and megalomania, with its two characters wrapping their horns around each other in a battle for prominence. Corneau’s direction is fueled by stifling grays and cold blacks. The muted colors of the office that Isabelle and Christine work in, we figure, is indicative of the clinical and confined quarters of their stark lives. The movie is an orchestra of closing doors and falling manila envelopes. And while the ruthlessly blotchy and bland set design feels constricted and without resonance, it is important for the film’s dystopian mood of chilled office rooms and boxy work relationships. The terse atmosphere and jilted score provide a backdrop for our characters’ maliciously emotional game of social pong. Once Christine finds herself at odds with Isabelle, she obtains a sort of hairline fracture in her soul. The results of her spiritual crack is a brutal, vindictive onslaught against the reserved Isabelle.
Most of the film is melodrama mixed with repetitious acts of cruelty, which makes me wonder, ever so seriously, why these crooked and uniquely deranged characters seem so mundane and, well, boring. You have two characters, whose lives are bucking heads with each other, and yet, throughout all of the stormy imbroglios, they have nothing interesting to say or do. The screenplay makes evil look disturbingly uneventful – and that’s a crime. Some of the acting is efficient, but my recommendation has the stability of a house of cards, mostly because of the porous plot and flat dialogue. Once Isabelle conducts her elaborate, unlikely revenge plan, we’re left feeling empty and without interest. The ending of the film takes too long to get there and the finale feels about as rewarding as getting a parking ticket. Music cues all of the film’s epiphanies, because, as you know, we wouldn’t be able to grasp the plot without them. And a series of elaborate and utterly unnecessary plot twists exists only to hear the audience saw “a-ha!” several times over. Why does the screenplay seem lukewarm and predictable? Surely not because the characters want to be, but because the director favors a series of guffaws over interesting character development.
Ludivine Sagnier, as always, provides a particular brand of arsenic that is palpable, but her curious screen presence alone isn’t enough to inflate a movie that has slashed tires to begin with. Aside from Sagnier and the good-without-saying Kirstin Scott Thomas, this movie is rife with the kind of drama that you would see sprawled out across the Lifetime Channel in big block letters. Unfortunately Corneau’s last film isn’t so much great as greatly disappointing.