Formal review at the end.
Remember Ludivine Sagnier in Swimming Pool (overrated Ozon, in my opinion)? The trailers basically concentrated on her coming out of the pool, over and over. Sold almost entirely on sex, opposite Charlotte Rampling, and a looping, tricky, non-linear structure? Well I bring it up here because this is again Sagnier being sold via her sexuality, but the film is rather different. One quick tangent: have you looked at Charlotte Rampling’s filmography recently? The woman has been in some really incredible films. Do yourself a favor and check out almost anything she’s been in.
Love Crime is directed by Alain Corneau, most known for his 70s crime genre films. Sort of like a Claude Sautet of sorts. I really love his 1979 film Serie Noire. Actually, maybe Corneau is closer to Tavernier, who began with psychological character studies/thrillers (The Clockmakers, Coup de Torchon) and moved onto period pieces.
Anyway…in my review at the end I talk a bit more about plot and about sexual politics and corporate satire. Here I’m going to talk mostly about a few edits.
The basic plot that you need to know is that Sagnier plays Isabelle and the great Kristin Scott Thomas plays Christine. Christine is Isabelle’s boss. They embark on a tricky game of wit-matching, foul play, and cons. There’s a pretty awesome Psycho reference buried in there, the third act feels Mamet-like, and Chabrol (who I seemingly can’t help but reference all the time) would probably have admired the film’s structure, and at least its first two acts.
There’s a scene in here where Christine decides to put Isabelle in her place by publicly humiliating her. She does so at a mandatory office party, where she reveals on her large television, that she’s been taping her employees via close-circuit cameras. She then plays a DVD of their worst moments, one of which includes Isabelle crying and crashing her car in the parking lot. Isabelle is distraught. In a medium wide-shot she walks out of the party. Corneau’s camera lingers on the empty door and then there’s what can only be called a shock cut, which is to a close-up of Isabelle in the shower. It’s neck-up. She’s directly under the shower-head. Her once-beautiful (and often talked about, in this film) hair is flat down, covering her face. Her eyes are puffy. Her mouth is drawn. In short, she looks terrifying. She kind of looks like Carrie when she’s covered with blood at the prom, if you replace the blood with a shower with fantastic pressure.
It’s a wonderful cut and one that really gets to the heart of the film. Shot A: nicely lit, decent contrast, medium wide, slow movement, murmuring crowd. Shot B: flatly lit, monochrome, horrified expression, harsh shower blasting. Very different. There are a few things worth noting about the difference. For one, Corneau obviously skips the in-between. He skips the full range of emotion that she goes through between Shot A and B. This makes it all the more effective. We imagine Isabelle’s breakdown. We’re left only with the aftermath. Further, this emphasizes, from a purely visual perspective, Isabelle’s dual nature: made up and quiet at the office party, drowned rat and defeated in the shower. That her dual nature plays a more-than-significant role in the third act, makes this more than nicely paced moment and true foreshadow.
There are other really odd cuts in the first two acts. Corneau ignores the classic “move the camera at least 30 degrees or significantly change the frame size” between shots rule. He also ignores any shots that would be cut in for only segue purposes (how many times have you seen an establishing shot of a house, which doesn’t give us much new information, but which does allow time for our brains to catch up to the action on-screen?). One great example:
Shot of Isabelle standing in her office in a wide-shot. Windows in the background. Facing camera. Cut to (not dissolve to): shot of Christine standing in her office in a wide-shot. Windows in the background. Facing camera. Had Corneau dissolved between the two shot it would have had the effect of merging the women, of gradually preparing us for this visual similarity. By hard-cutting he less compares and merges than throws us around. It looks like the scene slightly shifts and we have to take almost a full second to realize we’re in a new space with a new character. It’s perfect in the sense that Christine and Isabelle argue for screentime throughout the first two acts.
I keep referring to the first two acts only because the third act is really very different. This is such a masterful example of controlled pacing. Within one moment, one scene (more accurately), Corneau entirely changes the pacing of the film. Shots linger. There are more transitions. Scenes don’t end as abruptly. Characters are allowed to emote on camera. It’s a clearly conscious decision and one that separates the sections of the film beyond simple narrative.