Read My Lips (8/10)

 Copyright © 2002 by Tony Medley


 Read My Lips could have been made in Hollywood in 1948 in black and white starring Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer as classic film noir.  Instead it was made in the 21st century in France in color in French with subtitles, so not many people will see it.

 Too bad, because itís a highly entertaining film.  This is a movie about people with a lot of problems leading lives of quiet desperation.  The female protagonist, Carla Bhem, played to perfection by Emmanuele Devos, is a partially deaf secretary working for a construction company.  Sheís made fun of by her cohorts and not given enough credit by her superiors.  Enter Paul Angeli, convincingly played by Vincent Cassel, an ex-convict on probation, whom Carla hires as her assistant (although she wants more from the assistant than help on her job), and the fun begins.  Carla is a 35-year old love-starved woman.  Paul is younger than Carla (per her request), scruffy but sexy, with problems of his own, owing money to a guy, Marchand (Olivier Gourmet), who is a good man gone bad, very bad.  Carla manipulates Paul into a symbiotic relationship.  Later, Paul reciprocates.

 Whoís using whom?  Whoís the dominant person in the relationship?  Will they survive? Will they fall in love?  Are they victims, or masters of their fates with hidden reserves unknown until tested? These are the paradoxes Director Jacques Audiard (who also co-wrote the script with Tonino Benacquista) expertly explores, including a mysterious probation officer, Masson, enigmatically played by Olivier Perrier, who adds his inscrutable problems to the mix.  The cinematography by Matthieu Vadepied is masterfully understated.

 I generally donít like reading subtitles when Iím watching a film, but Read My Lips is so good that you forget about the subtitles after a few moments.  Like a lot of French films, it is a lot of talk, but unlike many French films, not a lot of introspection.  Instead, it turns into a thriller. From the moment Paul enters the scene thereís a palpable undercurrent of danger.

 Devos creates a sympathetic, believable character with an exceptional job of acting.  Cassel develops his character to the same level, and the result is a captivating hour and 55 minutes, a film you wonít soon forget because itís so well done.

The End