Love Crime feels like the kind of film Claude Chabrol could (and sometimes did) make in his sleep: a sly divertissement about power and manipulation that inevitably leads to crime.
The last film directed by Alain Corneau before he died last year (he was a chameleon, best known for the pretty-looking period piece Tous les Matins du Monde), it’s a predictable cat and mouse game between the ruthless, feline business executive played by Kristin Scott Thomas and the all-too-mousy-looking junior exec played by Ludivine Sagnier. But the actresses’ bold, incisive performances surpass the script (by Corneau and Natalie Carter) and keep us as entangled with the film as the characters are with each other.
Scott Thomas, as brilliant as ever, swans through it all as Christine, whom we see at home planning a business meeting with brainy Isabelle (Sagnier). You can’t fail to notice the erotic undertone as Christine flatters and charms the younger woman, but it’s part of the film’s cleverness that you can’t tell whether those approaches are sincere or coming from Christine’s instinct for doing whatever will keep Isabelle in her thrall.
As if in total defiance of cliche, Christine wears a scarf with elegant ease. That stereotype of Frenchwomen and their casually beautiful scarves has always seemed as false to me as the notion of every Frenchman wearing a beret (truly, those scarves are expensive but frumpy). Yet Scott Thomas not only makes it work; fashion becomes character and plot. Christine gives the scarf to Isabelle, who wears it much less elegantly. Watch that scarf; it becomes a key piece of evidence.
The endlessly complicated Christine is also blatantly having an affair with Philippe (Patrick Mille), a younger man in her company, whom she passes on to Isabelle as another hand-me-down. She takes credit for Isabelle’s dazzling work. And she helpfully tells Isabelle, whose hair is put up in a businesslike bun, to let it down so she’ll be more attractive, then quickly decides: No, it was better up after all.
Hmm, how long do you think poor, lonely, career-driven Isabelle will put up with such humiliation? What are the odds she’s never seen All About Eve? Or more relevantly, one of those Chabrol films?
As the focus shifts to Isabelle, Sagnier - who was almost unrecognizable in her last film, The Devil’s Double – has some tricks of her own. She keeps us guessing about Isabelle’s behavior: out of control or diabolically smart?
The film becomes less and less plausible as it becomes more plot-driven, with interlocking threads that involve financial fraud as well as romantic and professional betrayal. But while it is never as fresh or as jolting as you might hope, Love Crime is a delectable little trifle.
The film opens Friday in NY and LA and is now on VOD.