‘Love Crime’ opens at the Music Box Theater on Friday, September 23rd.
There are some interesting ideas for a corporate thriller riding along the surface of Alain Corneau’s Love Crime (Crime d’Amour) (France, 2010), and a couple of terrific performances by its leads. But there’s a pointless mean-spiritedness to the whole enterprise. It wants to show us how far people will go to attain, and preserve, power, but ends up reinforcing a lot of nasty ideas about the incapability of women to balance business acumen and real ambition against their emotional, hysterical natures.
Isabelle Guérin (Ludivine Sagnier) is the executive assistant to the powerful Christine Rivière (Kristin Scott Thomas) at a global agribusiness corporation. Christine is a master manipulator, artfully pulling out Isabelle’s best efforts through seductive encouragements, and then derisively taking her down a notch when Isabelle’s work threatens to outshine her own. When the film begins, it’s obvious that Isabelle willfully defers to Christine as an admired mentor. But Isabelle’s assistant, Daniel (Guillaume Marquet), encourages her to value her own good work, and strike out on her own with a smaller account that Christine won’t be privy to. Not only are the clients delighted with Isabelle’s work, but they figure out that Isabelle’s talented fingerprints are all over an earlier deal that Christine took full credit for. The imperious Christine is infuriated, and arranges for Isabelle to suffer a number of below-the-belt humiliations, both personal and professional. Now it’s Isabelle’s turn. Exit l’amour, enter le crime.
Kristin Scott Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier are both excellent actors, well cast. Ms. Thomas plays the man – and woman – eating shark with real gravity and relish. Which is to her credit, because except for the occasional say-so of a few male executives whom we’ve already been convinced are unimaginative dolts, there’s actually nothing in the film that convinces us that she’s any good at any of this, or explains how she got so far in the first place. Ms. Thomas takes a deeply sexist cliché (she had to out-asshole the assholes) and a chic wardrobe and actually creates a real person anyway. Ms. Sagnier’s performance is equally committed, equally convincing – Isabelle seems genuinely good at what she does – but Mr. Corneau and co-writer Nathalie Carter have only given her three character options – doe-eyed sycophant, wounded bird and petulant avenger. Ms. Sagnier labors admirably to fill in the transitions and create a character we can empathize with; it just doesn’t take, but it’s not her fault.
Corneau’s environments are almost entirely interiors, straight out of contract-design magazines – chic but soulless, like the majority of his characters. The notion that the only way women can get ahead in the world is to inhabit the worst aspects of the men who preceded them is an idea worth fighting against. Yet Corneau and Carter, instead of exploring the cliché and turning it into something novel, assume that we take the cliché for granted, and use it as the foundation for everything else that happens. We can’t wait for That Bitch to Get Hers, and we find ourselves rooting for Isabelle to stoop to the same nastiness that’s injured her so grievously. Isabelle’s solution is an interesting one, all told, but there’s no real satisfaction, for her or us. We have no idea, at the end, whether Isabelle will willfully compensate for the sins of her predecessor, and see a kind of larger justice done, or whether she’ll just transform herself into another version of Christine. One gets the sinking feeling that, at this point, it’s not supposed to matter.