After a long delay in writing I am now blogging from Philadelphia. I can only assume I’ve been missed badly.
I love Audiard films. A Prophet was robbed of a Best Foreign Film Academy Award by The Secret in Their Eyes and his other films – The Beat That My Heart Skipped, A Self-Made Hero – are fantastic.
Read My Lips is no exception. All Audiard’s themes and stylistic touches are intact: obsession with communication (or lack thereof), iris-ins at dramatic moments of the film, dark, sarcastic humor, a long, strange type of revenge.
Plot: The always awesome Vincent Cassel plays Paul, an ex-con who is hired at the same office where Carla (Emmannuelle Devos – what an underrated actress: Wild Grass, La Moustache, Kings and Queens) is secretary. Carla is hard of hearing, often the object of ridicule in her male-dominated workplace, and sexually frustrated and timid.
What ensues is a series of small actions as Carla and Paul form an oddly symbiotic relationship. Paul helps Carla take revenge on a misogynist coworker. Carla helps Paul with his parole officer. And their turns continue until both are deeply embroiled in a plot to steal a whole lot of cash from a club owner/mob boss to whom Paul is indebted. And to top all of this off…Carla and Paul don’t trust one-another.
There are a lot of things that make Read My Lips a great film. For one, the script is solid, unpredictable, and appropriately unsentimental. The performances are great and the score by Alexandre Desplat (Terrence Malick, anyone?) and cinematography by relative newcomer Mathieu Vadepied are equally impressive.
Audiard’s direction is flawless. Read My Lips is a film to watch to learn how to not overuse a technique. Carla is partially deaf. It would be extremely easy to use this in the script time and again, or to aesthetically insist on it: sound dimming at convenient times, aural POVs, etc. Instead, Audiard uses it to develop character and to set Carla apart from her everyday reality and closer to the underworld in which Paul exists. Her deafness becomes an advantage of sorts (she can read lips for Paul), but Audiard really utilizes it to complement her uneasiness and, more importantly, separateness, in an otherwise male-dominated world. Her deafness is what ultimately gets her ahead, ironically.
Also worth noting is the attention that Audiard gives to Paul’s parole officer, Masson (Olivier Perrier). Masson is a sympathetic character and a bit of a pushover. He’s sweet and seemingly caring. Audiard frequently cuts away to his side-story, in which his wife is missing. Masson seems to be slightly unstable. SPOILER: at the end, as Paul and Carla get away with the money, Audiard cuts to Masson. The man has committed suicide in his living room. It’s gruesome and highly stylized in how symmetrical the framing is. Meanwhile the shots of Paul and Carla are dominated by non-diegetic music, handheld and presented in the iris-style.
Read: Masson’s unstable life is framed perfectly and serenely. Paul and Carla’s newly (somewhat) stable life is framed unstably. It’s the perfect encapsulation of the irony that runs throughout the film.