Daily Archives: January 25, 2011

Crime d'amour (France 2010)

Kristin Scott Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier

This was the last film of Alain Corneau, veteran French director of polars – amongst other genres. He died aged 67 soon after the film was released. I watched the film on a long-haul flight – not the best format for critiquing a film. Even so, I could see that this was an interesting idea. Whether Corneau fully pulled it off, I’m not sure, but for a man suffering from cancer it was a brave venture.

Co-written by Corneau and Nathalie Carter, Crime d’amour (‘Love Crime‘ for the Anglophone world) is an intriguing genre mix. I would class it as a polar combined with something of a film noir. I’ve seen it described as a psychological thriller and even compared to La tourneuse de pages but I don’t think that’s really appropriate, although revenge is a central feature of the plot. North American reviewers have suggested a cross between Dangerous Liaisons and Working Girl – quite a neat description, but not very helpful in a French context. In some ways, I was reminded of Louis Malle’s Lift to the Scaffold (1958), partly because of the office setting and partly because of the detailed procedural elements of a crime. It’s quite difficult to give an outline of the plot without ‘spoiling’ the pleasures of the film, so I’ll just offer the film’s premise.

Outline

Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas) is a senior executive in a French subsidiary of an American-owned food company. She is highly ambitious and angles for a top post in the US. Isabelle (Ludivine Sagnier) is a junior executive in the same company working as Christine’s assistant. Christine seems particularly interested in giving Isabelle a helping hand and offers her a trip to Cairo to promote a new product. In Cairo she works with Phillipe, a young man working for an associate company – and also Christine’s lover. Isabelle turns out to be as driven as Christine and she does well with the Cairo work. How will the two women behave towards each other in future? Christine instigates a war between the two by stealing credit for Isabelle’s triumph in Cairo and using it for her own advancement. The knives are out.

Commentary

The film is really in two halves. In part one the conflict is set up and developed until it reaches a climax with the ‘crime’ of the title. In the second half there is a criminal investigation by the police, an arrest and imprisonment and a highly contrived defence by the perpetrator. The first half is rather unrealistic in terms of business procedures but gripping because of the playing by the two stars and Corneau’s tight direction. (French office life is presented as extremely glamorous.) I found the second half to be possibly too clever in its plotting and I was slightly irritated by it. The plot hinges on the procedures of French criminal law which allows a good deal of discretion by the ‘examining/investigating judge’ in an inquisitorial judicial system. I think that this is what marks out the plot trajectories of the polar as quite different to those of British or American crime films which end up in the criminal court.

I know that some critics don’t like Ludivine Sagnier and that Kristin Scott Thomas can do no wrong (especially in the UK and US) but I’m rather taken with Ms Sagnier and this is just as much her film. We don’t get enough crime films focusing on women protagonists. Too often they are diverted into comedy, psychological drama or melodrama. In this case, the film is clearly about the women and their descent into criminal activity. The title, I think, is misleading. Philippe is a rather disposable character and Isabelle has a young male acolyte – a role which is perhaps not fully developed. The crime is too much ambition rather than too much love.

I’m not sure if the film will be released in the UK, although it has been released in New Zealand. Kristin Scott Thomas could be used to sell the film, though her role may be something of a shock for her UK/US fans. The image above helps to suggest how creepy she is, asking Isabelle what perfume she is wearing. By coincidence, one of the other new French releases available on my Air France flight was another Kristin Scott Thomas film, Elle s’appelait Sarah. A very different film, this one has just been nominated for a César (the French equivalent of the Oscars). Scott Thomas plays an American magazine journalist investigating the notorious round-up of French Jews in July 1942 in which they were held in a velodrome before being sent to the camps. I watched the first few minutes of this film but I was too tired to continue watching. This film will, I’m sure, get a UK release. We’ve reported on several Kristin Scott Thomas films recently and it’s worth pointing out that in both these French films she gets to speak English.

Here’s the New Zealand trailer for Crime d’amour:

Malaysian Cinema Pt 1

(This is a reworking of the post I made from Malaysia last week. Now I’ve got more time and better access, I want to expand my thoughts.)

The only cinema visit I could make on the trip was on a Sunday afternoon in Georgetown, Penang, where I visited the Cathay Cineplex. The ‘plex has seven screens on the 5th floor of a large shopping mall. The context of cinemagoing was interesting in that we sat in a cavernous food hall before the show. Every cuisine in Asia was on offer from the various stalls but I limited myself to a bottle of Tiger and bought a bag of vegetable crisps for the film. Next to the cinema was a large and very noisy gaming area and the mall also housed several DVD stores (more on this later). The ticket was 9 RM (roughly £2 or US$3). I think that makes cinemagoing relatively inexpensive in a country which has one of the more successful Asian economies.

My film choice was on in Screen 1, a large, steeply-raked single block of seats. I sat about ten rows back — but everyone was behind me. Khurafat is the latest Malaysian horror film release and the young audience seemed to respond favourably with screams and laughter.

All the films at this cinema appeared to be subtitled in English and some in Chinese as well. The other titles on offer included Tamil, Thai and Korean films alongside Hollywood blockbusters and a second Malaysian horror. No doubt there will be some Chinese films for New Year in a week or so.

The subtitles meant that I could follow most of the film fairly easily. The problems I did have came mostly through the editing and some aspects of local culture. Horror is clearly popular – Thai and Korean as well as Malaysian. Khurafat seemed mostly derivative of J-horror, especially in the appearance of the various ghosts. Sadako (from Ringu) and The Grudge have got a lot to answer for. Unfortunately, in this case, there are far too many appearances of ghosts – less is usually more in this genre.

The difference here is that ‘Malay’ culture is mainly Muslim (as distinct from the Chinese and Indian communities in this multi-ethnic and multi-faith society) and so we enter the world of djinns and exorcism by the local Imam. This cultural difference has attracted some international interest according to the local press. The Muslim cultural base limits the display of overt sexual behaviour – so the ‘bad girl’ does not have to do much to be bad. More emphasis is given to family relationships and the respect and filial duty expected of a young man re his widowed mother. This is neatly utilised in one aspect of the plot.

Liyana Jasmay as Aisha and Syamsul Yusof as Johan

The outline story involves Johan, a young man who seems to be a hospital administrator of some kind in Kuala Lumpur. At the beginning of the film, he attends his father’s funeral and then returns to KL. He is clearly beset by demons of various kinds and the potential cause of this ‘disturbance’ is his ex-girlfriend, Anna. She is presented as a ‘goodtime girl’, getting drunk at a disco, whereas Johan’s new wife Aisha is demure and wears a head scarf in public (as do many women in Malaysia). There are various twists and turns in the plot including a major twist at the end. Overall the film is fairly conventional, but if it serves its local audience it will encourage a recent decision by the Malaysian film authorities to allow the release of one local film per week rather than the current one per month. This previous policy was designed to prevent competition between local titles which would spread the audience too thinly. I did attempt to see an earlier Malay horror release, now in its fifth week, but when I tried to buy a ticket, the manager told me that because no tickets had been sold she had cancelled the showing. I hope that this practice doesn’t catch on! Malaysia has a television industry producing drama serials and made for television films, but whether it is yet ready for a 50 plus annual production of features, I’m not sure. The only local review of Khurafat that I’ve found suggests that the acting performances are not that great. I think that I saw one of the actors in a television drama and the lead in the film, Syamsul Yusof, is also the film’s writer and director. Perhaps that is too big a role – but it shows ambition. From my brief time in the country, however, I got the sense that there is plenty of young talent waiting to break through – everywhere we went we came across photo shoots and occasionally video shoots. More on the Malaysian industry in a follow-up posting.

Here’s the trailer for Khurafat. This hasn’t got English subs – but it doesn’t really need them: