Sunday, September 4, 2011

Love Crime (Crime D'Amour)

Les Liaisons Dangereuse, With Imitation As Adaptation

Kristin Scott Thomas as Christine and Ludivine Sagnier as Isabelle in "Love Crime", directed by Alain Corneau. 
IFC Films

Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                  
Sunday, September 4
, 2011

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and you only hurt the ones you love, then Alain Corneau's noir thriller "Love Crime" is a perfect illustration of these axioms at work.  Set in France, the film's American multinational corporation Barney Johnson has at its core two ambitious employees: Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas), a cutthroat executive and boss of her protégé Isabelle (Ludivine Sagnier). 

Christine is ruthless and will sell her own mother keep herself at the top of Barney Johnson.  Isabelle is precise, methodical and clean, an ingénue, competent and conscientious.  The contrast in their work styles is distinct, and a mother-daughter separation anxiety forms a residue around this office drama, which ensnares a third employee, Philippe (Patrick Mille).  A love triangle of gamesmanship, humiliations, manipulations and sex plays out ala "Dangerous Liaisons".

Mr. Corneau's film has its Hitchcockian twists, turns and strong psychological foundation.  Characters are disembodied in several shots.  Psychoses and mental illness or the commentary on the state of the inherently calculating corporate animal and mindset form part of the film's subtext.  "Love Crime" is a shrewd dramatization of everyday office politics and the types of incestuous, nepotistic relations that mark the rise of some and downfall of others.  Stylish, lurid and artful, "Love Crime" is intriguing but aside from one scene is mainly predictable.  The film's second hour reveals answers to a "mystery" that culminates in an Agatha Christie-type climax. 

"Love Crime" just about succeeds on its cinematic compositions.  What's seen in the frame, one often full of mirrors, doubles and other motifs, is significant to the film's final destination as are fine performances by Ms. Scott Thomas ("Sarah's Key"), Ms. Sagnier ("The Devil's Double") and Guillaume Marquet as a Barney Johnson employee who knows more than he lets on.  Mr. Marquet plays Daniel, an important figure.  The line in the office where business ends and pleasure begins is blurred.  There's a sublime, well-acted moment between Mr. Mille, Ms. Scott Thomas and Ms. Sagnier highlighting this and the awkwardness of their fragile positions in a glass cage where results, the corruption of relationships and other affairs mean everything.

Ms. Scott Thomas is chilling and scary as the ice-cold Christine, her body language especially subtle yet intimidating at times, while Ms. Sagnier allows warmth to give way to vulnerability then charm and fearlessness as Isabelle.  Though a different film, "The Business Of Strangers" (with Stockard Channing and Julia Stiles) developed tension well between a middle-aged executive and her much younger assistant, and their rapport is met with greater force by the two actresses in "Love Crime".  Ms. Sagnier has played characters in league with older mentors ("Swimming Pool") and gives one of her best performances since that film.

Written by Mr. Corneau and Natalie Carter, "Love Crime" is packed with diabolical meddling and is a continuous volley of mind games, scandal and deliberation.  While its conveniently tied ends are preposterous and uneven (like the French detectives and lawyer trying to sort through details of a crime), the repetitive and duplicitous tenor of "Love Crime" and its scenes of imitated dialogue is perfect for the skullduggery on display. 

Movies are the substance that images form, and Mr. Corneau puts heavy emphasis on surveillance and film as subterfuge and revelation.  Whether in flashback, fantasy or real time, each shot says something about perception and manipulation.  With their continuous shenanigans are the film's subjects sick?  Is it the office environment that causes them to do what they do?  Or a deeper human impulse?  "Love Crime" is about the ultimate rush of love -- not necessarily love of politics or power -- but of opportunity, that is, opportunity to play or be someone you covet or desire.

Playing the part in a game and playing it well -- executing it to a tee -- is the heart of "Love Crime".  Some are good in their roles.  Some are not.  The law of the human jungle (and desire) applies, but the law, with some of its nasty writers as malefactors, is ripe to be trampled on.  In the terrain these scoundrels work on it takes one to know one.

With: Gerald Laroche, Julien Rocheford, Olivier Rabourdin, Marie Guillard, Mike Powers, Matthew Gonder.

"Love Crime" (Crime D'Amour) is not rated by the Motion Picture Association Of America.  The film contains some sexual content, brief nudity and brief violence.  The film is in the French and English languages with English subtitles.  The film's duration is one hour and 46 minutes.

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