Alain Corneau’s Love Crime is one hell of an ingeniously crafted French thriller. The film tells the story of the affable, and borderline psychosexual, relationship between Christine (Kristen Scott Thomas) a top-level business executive, and her dedicated protégé, Isabelle (Ludivine Sagnier). At the start of the film, Isabelle reverently hinges on Christine’s every word, doing what she’s told and doing it well.
We’re roughly 15 minutes in before things start to go a little mad.
Because Isabelle is apparently too good at her job, Christine decides to start fucking with her, just for kicks. She humilities her professionally in front of respected clients, privately in front of the casual lover they both share, and publicly at employee parties. It’s never made fully clear as to why Christine is doing what she’s doing. As played with expert precision by Scott Thomas, Christine is openly regarded as a cold-hearted bitch by those who know her, but her honed-in scare tactics against Isabelle are wildly without merit. She’s like Meryl Streep’s character in The Devil Wears Prada, laced with venom.
Now, most of us have seen this film before. The employer-employee feud that ultimately ends with one of them ousting the other and raising their hands in victory. But Love Crime is no Working Girl. Point in fact, after the plot is set and the characters are firmly established, the film dives into an extended sequence of seemingly pointless planning.
To explain, when we get the sense that Isabelle has (finally) had enough, she starts to roam around her spotless apartment in a haze; popping pills, stemming roses, going to the movies, whatever. In short, she seems to be planning something, but with half-assed purpose, and we have no idea why, or to what avail. When Love Crime was released theatrically last year, most of the reviews I saw were moderate to negative, which reflects the shared frustration that critics must have felt from being left in the dark during this sequence.
I too felt detached, but when things start to click into place (and believe me, do they ever), Love Crime evolves into a splendid little thriller that’s never too smart for its own good. I’ve described roughly the first 50 minutes of the film, and I won’t dare continue. Just know that it is rather difficult for a film to trick me (which Love Crime did), and if I catch on to some of those tricks (which I did, in part), then it is very difficult for me to finish the film feeling satisfied. And to say I felt satisfaction when Love Crime’s final credits rolled is seriously understating my stance.
In a fantastic bit of Hollywood planning, Brian De Palma has signed on to direct Passion, an American remake of Love Crime. Noomi Rapace is set to star, with Rachel McAdams possibly filling out the other role. I’ll be curious as to which actress takes which role, given that they are one year apart in age (Scott Thomas is 19 years Sagnier’s senior). At any rate, you can wait for De Palma’s version (which shoots this summer), or catch Corneau’s very worthy thriller on Netflix Instant now.
Love Crime is most definitely worthy, but I somehow think De Palma’s vision will improve upon the material. And really, when was the last time you felt pleased that an accomplished foreign film was getting an American treatment? B+