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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on DVDs. Co-Pick of the Week: New. Love Crime

Love Crime (Three Stars)
France: Alain Corneau, 2010 (MPI Home Video)
Movie murder mysteries can sometimes get too tricky and convoluted for their own good, and that’s pretty much what happens in Love Crime — a cool, nifty, well-constructed and very well-acted French film that would have been even better if it didn’t so hard to outsmart us all. It’s the the final picture from the admirable and crafty French writer-director Alain Corneau, who died at 67 last year, after a notable career that included several high-grade policiers and prime neo-noirs,  and also the very popular classical music bio Tous les Matins du Monde — and after finishing Love Crime.
It begins wonderfully, with a great snarling corporate office cat-fight between Kristin Scott Thomas as Christine, a pearly-smooth multinational executive with the silken moves of a chic leopard and the venomous morals of a glamorous snake, and Ludivine Sagnier as Isabel Guerin, her naïve and seemingly idolatrous, and maybe secretly venomous, assistant.
As we watch, often amused and sometimes appalled, Christine steals ideas and dignity and corporate standing from Isabelle, nearly seduces her, has her own wastrel lover Philippe (Patrick Mille) bed Isabelle instead, double-crosses her and makes a public fool of her. This is awful behavior, even for Kristin Scott Thomas at her meanest, and she does it with an evil, smiling, killingly well-bred panache that makes you think of Barbara Stanwyck gone French and all haute-couture on us. Sagnier responds at first with bewilderment, then with a vengeance. Also around, but no match for the two women (maybe) are two men who take Christine and Isabelle in interesting directions: the spineless Philippe and Isabelle‘s flawlessly organized, quiet, seemingly all-knowing office ally Daniel (Guillaume Marquet).
That’s the “Love” part of the film. (Love? Well, remember, we’re in Corporate Land.) Then comes the “Crime” section: an ingenious murder scheme by one of the two — or maybe a bystander, we’ll never tell — which proceeds to unravel and re-knit in a particularly complex way, one which, I‘m sorry to say, kept losing me more and more, the more it unwound.
The plot, which makes one of Dame Agatha Christie’s least-likely-suspect mystery classics look positively simple and a snap to pull off, seems at first brush, very clever, but makes less and less sense the more you examine it. To me, the scheme suggests, say, an amateur magician trying to build a model of the Eiffel Tower with matchsticks, arranged all around a lit candle, while balancing a top hat on his nose.  As I watched and winced , I kept saying to myself (inaudibly) “You know there are easier ways to do this.” And there are — and some of them may even be as entertaining or moew than Love Crime.
What I would have preferred — since this was Corneau’s last film and since it starts so infernally well, and since I would have loved to praise it unreservedly — is for these two fasciatingly bitchy warring women to continue their catfight thorugh the movie (one of them, of course, has to die, for the film to become a murder mystery, and that unfortunately means we lose one of the movie’s two major assets too early) and battle all the way to the end, with one of these femme fatales pulling some sneaky wickedness, and the other responding in kind. (Or cruel). A Bette Davis-Joan Crawford sort of blood feud. That might have been a great movie. Instead, it’s a good movie, with a great beginning.
Ludivine Sagnier, an ingénue with big hurt eyes, has had to deal with devious older women played by first rate actresses before (notably Charlotte Rampling in Swimming Pool). And, despite Sagnier’s wounded, dazey looks and big pale eyes i the beginning, we know she knows how to win sympathy and fall apart and pull herself together again. As for Kristin Scott Thomas, her Christine — wittily, icily chic and full of mean delight at her own serpentine machinations — well, watching her reminded me of how incredibly good (at being bad) she was, what a great preening, smilingly destructive selfish wife she played, in Charles Sturridge’s 1988 adaptation of Evelyn Waugh‘s dark social comedy A Handful of Dust.
Alain Corneau has handled film noir before — his 1989 Serie Noire is adapted from a vintage Jim Thompson hard-boiled novel (A Hell of a Woman), and he‘s also drawn a bead on crime in Police Python 357, Choice of Arms, and in his last film before Love Crime, Le Deuxieme Souffle, a remake of the 1966 Jean-Pierre MelvilleJose GiovanniLino Ventura heist classic.
Corneau‘s best-loved (and best) film though, and one of the most popular of all French movies, is his 1991 Tous Les Matins du Monde, in which Jean-Pierre Marielle and Gerard Depardieu enacted another, gentler feud between the great early French composers Sainte Colombe and Marin Marais, and in which the decor and detail and music (if not the camerawork) were almost as lush as in a sublime ’50s period French romance by the sublime Max Ophuls.
Despite my qualms (not shared by many), Love Crime’s luscious cargo of impeccable décor, fine cinematics, and sheer raving, compellingly bad feminine behavior — spiced by the beauty and cool wiles of  Scott Thomas and the impudence and determiatio Sagnier — makes for a very good French neo-noir, just le billet for those cine-buffs who lust after the better brand of French screen crime and sadly miss the experts — Clouzot, Chabrol, Melville, and even at times, Renoir and Truffaut — who used to serve us the murders, fear, great characters and ingenious twists we craved. 
In a show like this, characters and construction are paramount and Corneau said he triggered this script by dreaming up the movie’s big plot twist, and then building the rest of the film around it. It’s shame he didn’t realize that the first part of the film he built may have been better than the twist. (French, with English subtitles.)
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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon