When you think about it, no one has quite as much fun with thrillers as the French do. Something about people being elegantly nasty to each other seems to be right up their alley. “LOVE CRIME” is no different. The movie, which can be best defined as sort of a “All About Eve” meets “The Business of Strangers” but in reverse, opens with a phenomenally twisted interaction between Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas, all angles and calculations) and Isabelle (Ludivine Sagnier, somehow both tousled AND reserved) who works with (and under) her. In a mere two minutes of watching them interact, you just know: nothing good can come of this.
It is to the movie’s credit that the “nothing good” in question doesn’t play out exactly how you (or anyone involved, aside from one person) would expect and even if there is never any real mystery involved, the tension is palpable through and through.
Right after that foreboding opening scene, we get to know our leading ladies in two perfectly set up tableaux. Isabelle lives in a pristine, if smallish, home where she sleeps in a perfectly made bed by herself, eats her breakfast by herself, cleans everything after her by herself. Christine, on the other hand, wakes up after a night of sex to a maid, a luxurious bubble bath, rumpled sheets and a self-satisfied smirk. Each of their morning routines, played out parallel in front of our eyes, perfectly juxtaposes their work and personal ethics and the stage for these two personalities to clash all over the screen is set.
Christine and Isabelle work in one of those glossy business consulting operations (presented with an almost hospital like sterility here), where every day, on every corner, there is a prize for the taking and no one is going to help you unless you help yourself. Every single thing you do is part of a game you play and it is up to you to learn how to play it well. Sink or swim, as they say. And the water is full of sharks. This is a lesson Isabelle learns early on and her starting to play the game results in Christine turning against her, chipping away at Isabelle’s self-esteem and composure.
What follows is psychological warfare, a crime and the crime’s aftermath, all still being played out against the glossy backdrop of corporate France. Alain Corneau, who directed this, explored the power structure between women in the work environment before (in the Asian set “Fear and Trembling”) and obviously cherishes the dark little games people play. He lucks out with his leading ladies this time around. The cast is spot-on, Scott-Thomas in full on ice queen mode, having a lot of fun as a grown-up mean girl of the highest order, and Sagnier playing up her innocent blonde looks for both us and everyone in the film.
The movie itself is effective, if not necessarily really good, and the idea of a perfect crime is explored with an extreme detail and from a perspective of a truly intelligent person, which anyone with a love for procedural subgenre of thriller will assuredly enjoy. If you’re in the mood for a slice of dark chocolate cake (with some poisonous icing) this weekend, you could do much worse than this.