[Deep Focus]
Read My Lips

Hard of hearing.

Movie Credits:

Directed by Jacques Audiard

Written by Audiard and Tonino Benacquista

Cinematography by Mathieu Vadepied

Edited by Juliette Welfling

Starring Emmanuelle Devos and Vincent Cassel

France, 2001

Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Screened on VHS

CÚsar-winning Emmanuelle Devos plays Carla, a nearly deaf, overburdened and alienated office worker; the terrific Vincent Cassel is Paul, the scruffy, shifty, inexperienced parolee whom she decides, for reasons of her own, to hire as an assistant. The two of them quickly become embroiled in one another's chicanery; her needs have to do with workaday office politicking, while his are more ambitious - and, of course, criminal in nature. This fascinating, evolving relationship is the real subject of Read My Lips. The labyrinthine crime-drama landscape they navigate is the icing on the cake.

Paul is ready to repay Carla with sexual favors, but she declines - despite her clearly intense physical attraction to him. (At one point she dresses herself in Paul's bloodied shirt, underscoring the fundamental carnality of her desire to be near him.) When she's alone in her apartment, she stands before her mirror, trying out sexy bits of clothing, regarding her nude body with apparent dissatisfaction, and rehearsing imaginary dating conversations. Heart on sleeve, she is thus vulnerable before Paul, who clearly plans to use her to help fulfill his own clever scheme - which unravels in spectacular fashion.

In constructing his thriller, director Jacques Audiard hits all the right notes. The tension escalates apace, and one scene that has Carla hiding in a closet, listening as hard as she can through her hearing aid for clues to the location of an elusive package, has a thrilling edge, with Audiard's use of sound design and extreme close-ups to put the audience inside her head only magnifying the sense of jeopardy. A subplot involving Cassel's parole officer is a weird misfire, but otherwise this moves tensely, efficiently toward a gratifyingly tricky resolution that sees the tables turn and the balance of power shift.

But what lingers is the range of feeling displayed by Devos, whose protagonist self-actualizes over the course of the film. In the opening reels, she just gives off waves of pure gawky loneliness; by the end, she exudes a powerfully unkempt and unconventional eroticism. For these reasons and more, Read my Lips is dark and pleasurable stuff.

DEEP FOCUS: Movie Reviews by Bryant Frazer