The last film by the late Alain Corneau (Tous Les Matins de la Monde ) begins with corporate VP Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas) and her assistant Isabelle (Ludivine Sagnier) laughing uproariously. This is called foreshadowing: Their joy indicates they will soon be at eachother’s throats, then likely worse. Not a reel later Christine has passed one of Isabelle’s ideas off as her own. “It’s not betrayal,” Christine subsequently informs her. “It’s teamwork.” Regardless, the mousy yet furtively ambitious Isabelle can’t buy into this socialist view of a workplace where perfidy is acceptable long as it benefits the company. As the pair’s relationship crumbles even more spectacularly, Isabelle finds herself driven mad by the cut-throat grind of corporate life, soon hatching a scheme that’s at once highly implausible and a major mid-film spoiler.
Whether you buy the extent to which Isabelle goes for payback is, frankly, irrelevant. The same goes for whether Corneau’s swan song has anything original to say about the world of big business, not to mention woman’s current role in the same. It doesn’t. Despite building to an eye-rolling denouement, Love Crime takes great delight in nimbly navigating through its corporate milieu, and even more glee in dealing with the aftermath of The Twist That Shall Not Be Revealed But May Be Obvious By Now. Casting is key. KST is unleashed to act alternately smitten then bitchy toward her unraveling deputy, which she once again accomplishes in comfortable French. The far more limited Sagnier, a few films into the post-nudity segment of her career, simply acts like a blank slate, all the better to sell her sudden evolution into a surprisingly cunning monster.
Isabelle’s super-hush-hush scheme is clever slow-burn fun that finds an original way to twist a familiar movie gimmick, in which Isabelle attempts to circumvent an investigation by stern but clearly incompetent justice seekers. “Human beings are so complicated,” muses one such authority toward the end, all while the film itself mordantly argues for the opposite. They’re not remotely similar in quality or content, but Love Crime shares with Raúl Ruiz’s recent Mysteries of Lisbon —another final work by a since-deceased filmmaker—a relaxed elegance that betrays a long career, not to mention transcends what is in effect some fairly dodgy material. ■
2014 Films: The Year’s Most Likely