Directed by Alain Corneau
"Want it, and watch out": so advises cutthroat exec Catherine (Kristin Scott Thomas) to her doe-eyed assistant Isabelle (Ludivine Sagnier) early on in Alain Corneau's Love Crime. Against a glistening corporate backdrop just absurd enough to tickle a Verhoeven lover's funny bone—there's frequent talk of phone calls "from Washington," and the two work for an "agro-industry" powerhouse by the name of "Barney Johnson"—two betrayals, one professional and one personal, soon turn this creepadelic master-servant relationship sour.
These women careen onto what you might call a "collision course," replete with public dressing-downs, forged emails and re-appropriated security camera footage. It's gut-wrenching fun, but that's not all: with the assistance of Pharoah Sanders on the soundtrack, Love Crime takes a 180 at its midpoint, from bleak office drama to philosophical crime comedy. The moment immediately follows a harrowing act of violence; the music is pulpy, melancholy, and post-coital. It casts a spell on the audience, morphing viewers from aghast spectators to bewildered accomplices.
It works, thanks to the strength of the two leads. Thomas is slyly hilarious as the kind of pantsuit-crazy throat slitter who chugs a 36oz of her own Kool-Aid every morning, but she's one-upped here by Sagnier, who paints Isabelle with such range that even her bitchiest maneuvers stimulate a strong feeling of righteousness.
Corneau's final film takes after the nastiest classics by Clouzot, Hitchcock, and Lang, or indeed The Ghost Writer, last year's closest cinematic equivalent to a fistful of fatty gourmet snacks at a gallery opening. But rather than an immediately dated cry of political indignation, Love Crime ends on a workaholic's joke that's both nightmarish and a reality check, like a sharp elbow at the bar. It's implausible, and, worse, more than a little pertinent to career life today.
Opens September 2