Love Crime (Crime d’amour)

France (2010) Dir. Alain Corneau

Ambition, hard work and acute business acumen sees the stock of young executive Isabelle Guérin (Ludivine Sagnier) rise in the eyes of her boss Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas), who blatantly steals one of Isabelle’s ideas as her own to score a big contract. But when Isabelle gets intimate with Christine’s boyfriend Philippe (Patrick Mille), Christine decides to extract revenge on both. What she doesn’t bargain for is how far Isabelle will go to fight back after one public humiliation scene too many.

This psycho thriller was the last film from acclaimed director Alain Corneau, released posthumously after his death from cancer aged 67. It was remade in 2012 by no less a director than Brian DePalma and stars Noomi Rapace and Rachel McAdams, although its release has thus far been limited to festivals and DVD release only in most territories. Indeed, “psycho” is an apt prefix for this twisting revenge story considering the lengths Isabelle goes to in order to put her ruthless boss in her place, often pushing the boundaries of believability to quite an extent.

Christine is a ruthless and manipulative boss who plays with people for her own amusement but is always one step ahead of them for when she has had her fun. Isabelle is the mousey but earnest hardworking protégé with the ideas that keep Christine’s career alive, who soon becomes her next play thing.

First it is the compliments, then the encouragement to glam herself up followed by the gifts to make Isabelle feel special, until Christine’s vile and selfish ego comes into play. She sends Isabelle to Cairo with Phillipe where the inevitable happens (by Christine’s design perhaps?) which doesn’t sit well with her. After discovering some financial irregularities with Phillipe’s account within the firm and that Isabelle worked a deal with the US behind her back, Christine flexes her muscles to force a break up between the two followed by the slow and ritual public humiliation of Isabelle at every opportunity.

To say Isabelle’s revenge is extreme is something of an understatement, taking in some elaborate and almost unbelievable acts of martyrdom in order to ensure those who wrong her pay dearly. With only her assistant Daniel (Guillaume Marquet) and sister Claudine (Marie Guillard) on her side, Isabelle fights an uphill struggle in the name of vengeance and justice that cannot be discussed further for fear of spoiling the incredible and often incredulous developments. That said, it is to the testament of the writing of Corneau and Natalie Carter and the virtuoso performance of Ludivine Sagnier that the viewer is so wholly engaged in the on screen action with disbelief well and truly suspended (well almost).  

While the story seems to spiral out of control, a few clues are left for the viewer to pick up on, some obvious, some not so. When the pieces of the puzzle are gradually fitted together we are tested on how much attention we have been paying thus far and it is not long before one is asking “but what about…?” Even if the credibility of an explanation is stretched everything is accounted for and has a secure place in the final picture.

It should be noted that the publicity for this film in some cases is trying sell this as an erotic and possibly Sapphic thriller. Despite a couple of risibly overreacted but blink and you miss them sex scenes any erotica is in the prurient minds of the publicists. The aforementioned US remake might have gone down this route, but Corneau’s film is a revenge psychodrama through and through.

The usually dominant Kristin Scott Thomas in a rare nasty role is deliciously hateable as the duplicitous and morally bereft Christine yet manages to retain her usual poise and natural refined demeanour, making her character a rather slinky villainess. Despite her presence though it is Sagnier who carries the weight of this film on her slender shoulders, delivering another trademark nuanced performance.

Isabelle’s transformation from dowdy assistant to broken down mental mess and finally to fully fledged glamourpuss is gradual and full of subtleties to keep this evolution rooted in realism – for the most part at least, the final stage is a just a little cheesy and jarring juxtaposed with what came before. It is in the mid second act when Isabelle is at her lowest and most divisive that Sagnier gets to dive deep into her extensive repertoire of previous characters to essay each of the devastating changes in Isabelle’s life.

Putting aside that the content gets a little far fetched in places, Love Crimes is well made and never dull. Corneau can rest assured that he left us with a swan song that showcases the talents of its leading lady and keeps the viewer’s attention in the process with a spiralling and scary tale of just how far you can push a person and how far they will go to push back. You have been warned.