Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 19, 2014 2:16 pm 
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Getting away with murder -- almost

In this coldly handsome-looking and vaguely preposterous film by Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu, Matthieu Amalric plays Marc, who has a popular seminar in writing at the sleek, glass-encased University of Lausanne between Switzerland and France. Marc is an academic Lothario who's slept with so many of his female students he can't keep their names straight. One of them, whom he's just taken to bed in the family chalet he shares with his borderline-incestuous sister Marianne (Karin Viard), turns out to be missing afterward and he's an obvious suspect. But his relations with the cop sent to investigate remain cordial and, in plain view, he begins meeting and eventually sleeping with Anna (Maiwenn), the stepmother of the missing Barbara (Marion Duval). Meanwhile an oversexed student called Annie (Sara Forestier) keeps throwing herself at him, and Richard (Denis Podalydès), Marc's department head, whom he detests, is either protecting Marc or trying to get rid of him; it's not always clear. What becomes clear is that Richard and Marianne have something going on. Marc sleepwalks, or talks in his sleep, and imagines things.

L'amour est un crime parfait (the French title) has pretensions, but little discernible rhythm; therefore Rob Nelson's linking the film in his Variety review to Hitchcock seems over-optimistic. It could be both a thriller and a sharp psychological study, but fails to score in either category, until the thriller part does come together at the end as several revelations and a nifty finale take place. But unfortunately credibility and involvement have been lost long before these engaging moments come.

The able Amalric does the best he can with weak material here, particularly scenes of his teaching, which are hopelessly lame and repetitive. All he does is throw out overly-famous quotations from James Joyce, Dante, and the like and assign in-class writing assignments that would seem unoriginal in high school. Students never get to talk, papers never have to be graded or discussed. These moments are a strong clue that this is a film, so elegant to look at and full of intriguing surreal touches, is too often more half-hearted gesture than solid maatter. Amalric is saddled with strutting, pretentious dialogue as a teacher. His character's enormous appeal to girl students is a mystery. He's an actor who's most effective in troubled, neurotic (or even deranged) or hyperactive roles and it's hard to see him as a dodgy ladykiller. But the Larrieus, adapting Phillippe Djian's novel Incidences, eschew straightforward realism. Their film is elegant, and on the dark side, but also playful and tongue-in-cheek. Its shots of a snow-shrouded alpine road, Marc skiing and climbing, the handsome chalet, and above all the coldly spectacular university are highlights of a handsome and highly accomplished mise-en-scène, and even the opening credits are a pleasure to look at, but all that tends to overwhelm the story. I haven't seen the Larrieus' other films, two of which, Happy End and A Man, a Real One, Amalric already starred in. I therefore can't confirm or deny some French critics' assertion that in the light of that oeuvre, this film makes brilliant sense.

Love Is the Perfect Crime/L'amour est un crime parfait, 110 mins., debuted at Toronto 2013 and opened in France January 14, receiving mixed reviews (Allociné press rating 3.2). Screened for this review as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center (March 6-16, 2014).

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