Director: Alain Corneau
Starring: Ludivine Sagnier, Kristin Scott-Thomas
Sometimes less is more. Such is the case with Alain Corneau’s Love Crime, a film which begins with a simple but fascinating premise, and then twists itself in knots to service what becomes an overly convoluted narrative that favors a by the numbers approach to unpacking the plot. It isn’t a bad movie – if nothing else, it features great performances from its stars, Ludivine Sagnier and Kristin Scott-Thomas – but it’s a disappointing film when you consider how it ends up in relation to the promise it shows in the beginning.
Sagnier and Scott-Thomas star as Isabelle and Christine, a rising young executive and her boss and mentor, respectively. Christine is a ruthless player intent on climbing the next rung on the corporate ladder, using Isabelle’s work as a professional stepping stool, and using Isabelle’s crush on her to manipulate her for her own sadistic pleasure. When Christine takes credit for Isabelle’s work in order to secure a promotion (and laughingly tells Isabelle to deal with it, because that’s how business is done), Isabelle begins trying to hit back at her, first by sleeping with Christine’s boyfriend, Philippe (Patrick Mille), and then by making a professional move that throws Christine’s promotion into question. She wins a small victory, but at the cost of incurring Christine’s considerable wrath.
Whereas before Christine was just playing with Isabelle for the fun of it, now she’s out for blood and will settle for nothing less than destroying her. After a series of humiliations, both public and private, at Christine’s hands, Isabelle decides that she can’t take anymore and needs to take drastic action. As she sees it, the only recourse she has is to kill Christine – but, of course, if she were to do so, she’d be the prime suspect; Christine has insured as much by sending threatening emails to herself from Isabelle’s computer. The only chance that Isabelle has to get away with it is to accept that she’ll be the prime suspect and play into it – a risky proposition, but Isabelle has been pushed so far towards the edge that she has no qualms about jumping off.
The first half of the film, which explores the vaguely sadomasochistic relationship between Christine and Isabelle, is the strongest, focusing firmly on the two characters and their very particular dynamic. It’s the sort of relationship not often portrayed in film and by its very construction it’s loaded with psychological potential (which the main reason why the US remake seems redundant, because by recasting the roles with Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace, two actresses of roughly the same age, it immediately eliminates the most fraught aspects of the relationship). Love Crime is never more intriguing then when it’s exploring the ways that Christine manipulates Isabelle, and how Philippe finds himself incorporated into that power dynamic, but it abandons that focus in favor of a much more conventional (and, frankly, kind of dumb) thriller story that finds Isabelle trying to get away with murder by going out of her way to make herself look like a murderer.
Love Crime falls short in its second part, as it weighs itself down with plot contrivance after plot contrivance (though it does nearly redeem itself with the ending, which implies that there’s no such thing as the perfect crime and that Isabelle has escaped Christine merely to place herself under someone else’s thumb), but it still manages to find strength in its performances. Scott-Thomas is pitch perfect as Christine, alternately reeling Isabelle in and then finding new ways to crush her, and Sagnier creates an effective blend of cunning and innocence in Isabelle. In the end, the story becomes not the least bit believable but the actors still play it for everything its worth, which in turn makes it worth checking out.