When Alain Corneau, the director of “Love Crime,” died just more than a year ago, French president Nicolas Sarkozy felt compelled to release a statement. “Corneau pursued an unceasing investigation into what makes humans human,” Sakrozy said.
Sixty-seven years old, dying from cancer, not only did Corneau’s style remain as rigorous and lucid as ever but with Love Crime, he tapped into adolescent truths inaccessible to directors half his age.
Alain Corneau’s life, ended by cancer last summer, left a body of work that includes the seven-Cesar winner “All the Mornings of the World” (“Tous les matins du monde”) in which he directed Gérard Depardieu.
“Love Crime” combines the deadly mix of corporate money, power and sex in a potboiler keeps the audience on the edge for its full 106 minutes.
The story’s first half is an office drama between Isabella (Ludivine Sagnier), a young executive who despite her brilliance is hopelessly innocent, and her boss Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas), who steals Isabella’s ideas. Her colleague and lover Philippe (Patrick Mille) is a callous coward. And she’s happy with that because everyone likes her.
But Isabelle is angry when Christine takes credit for her work, and tries, with the help of a loyal co-worker named Daniel (Guillaume Marquet), to get some revenge. She and Christine wage a stealthy war, each trying to undermine the other while maintaining at least a minimum of professional decorum. But things quickly escalate, and icy looks and poisonous whispers give way to forged memos, brutal humiliations and, finally, outright violence.
Late at night, Isabelle has a financial epiphany and while immediately executing it forgets to credit to her boss. Big mistake. Because this is a French film, Corneau has previously interjected a lesbian undertone, and Christine takes the neglect as proof her love will never be requited, and turns on her.
There are recriminations and fractured alliances. Threatening to turn in Philippe for a jointly committed financial crime, she gets him to schedule a midnight office tryst and then stand Isabella up. A security camera records the tearful aftermath and Christine includes it in an ostensibly lighthearted video of overstressed executives. It’s enough to drive someone to murder and that’s exactly what Isabella does.
The characters become avatars in a fantasy world where international corporations are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and the leaders therein are possessed with evil spirits that are beyond exorcism.
Mr. Corneau makes witty use of the contrasting faces and temperaments of the two main actresses. Ms. Thomas, her manner as impeccable and dry as her French, is all angles and edges, most terrifying when she seems most at ease. Ms. Sagnier, soft and skittish and visibly struggling to maintain her composure, turns out to be even scarier.
The screenplay is thoroughly entertaining although the viewer has to overlook the rough spots in the plot and appreciate the lushly choreographed blood sport of corporate executives throwing each other to the sharks. [via The New York Times, Yahoo! and New York Press]