Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 22, 2024 5:39 pm 
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Bad lawyers, bright ladies

An ambitious actress lets herself go on trial for murder just for the publicity it will bring. This is an adaptation of an adaptation, the boulevard comedy by George Berr & Louis Verneuil after True Confession and the subsequent American remake Cross My Heart. But when Ozon puts his hand to something, there are entertaining results. Warning - Ozon does serious stuff sometimes, but this is as campy as he can get. It's a period drama, set in 1935, with bright colored dresses and a plethora of big thirties French automobiles in every street scene. It entertains, and yet is smart, but goes so fast you may not remember scenes that the Times said unreel "at an auctioneer's clip."

Two attractive but impoverished women live together, in fact are so poor there's no running water and they sleep in the same bed. They are the blond aspiring actress Madeleine Verdier (Nadia Tereszkiewicz of the glowing eyes and bee-sting lips) and the as yet untried lawyer Pauline Mauléon (brunette Rebecca Marder). Sisterhood in adversity and dawning awareness of the rights of women are underlying themes.

The stupidity of men especially in the police and judiciary is another theme. A rich and boorish theater producer Montferrand (Jean-Christophe Bouvet) offers Madeleine a role, but only on condition that she becomes his mistress. He attacks her, she fights him off and escapes. Later, it turns out Montferrant has been killed and a dumb police detective accuses Madeleine of the crime. At first it is thought that 300,000 francs were missing, suggesting Maeeline did it for money; but the 300,000 francs turn out to have been stashed in a cigar box. Gustave Rabusset (Fabrice Licchini) is a juge d'instruction who has no sense. He quickly becomes convinced Madeleine is the assassin. Another person of dubious intelligence is Madeleine's suitor or admirer, André Bonnard (Édouard Sulpice), the son of a tire factory owner (André Dussollier), who can't seem to get it together and who has no access to the family wealth, which in any case may be fragile right now.

Madeleine and Pauline put their heads together and decide to make the best of it. Pauline will be Madeleine's defense lawyer, she will plead that she did the crime to defend her honor, and they'll both become famous. The trial sequence is a hilarious charade, the audience cheering and clapping at every turn, Madeleine reciting dramatic speeches written for her by Pauline, and the lawyer for the prosecution delivering an outrageous speech appealing to the male jury that they must send the accused to her death to keep uppity women in their place. He claims his own wife has threatened to slit his throat if he does not behave. The jury votes for acquittal.

As was their wish, this makes the young ladies into media stars. They start living well and having work - till a complication arrives: the appearance of the fading but feisty silent film star Odette Chaumade (Isabelle Huppert), who announces that she was the one who killed Montferrand. She brandishes another pistol and Montferrand's wallet as proof, and demands that Madeleine and Pauline pay her 300,000 to keep quiet, because if it emerges that their courtroom performance was a charade, their reputations will be ruined, at the very least. They refuse: they have good credit, but no 300,000.

Odette turns herself in to the court and winds up declaring her guilt in the Montferrand murder to none other than Juge d'Instruction Rabusset. But he will have none of it. That crime has been resolved. He suggests Odette confess to one of the unsolved murders then current. She declines.

Subsequently M. Bonnard is convinced by a friend of the young women, Palmarède (Dany Boon, sporting a heavy south of France accent), that Madeleine is legit, and not a murderess, and he agrees to bless her marriage to his son. A big loan is offered to get the tire company back on its feet and M. Bonnard gives Odette Chaumade (he, like all the older men, is a fan) 300,000 and she promises to keep quiet. It all ends happily.

The latter half is a bit rushed, as signaled by Huppert's motormouth delivery. If anything makes clear that this whole film is tongue-in-cheek high camp, it's Huppert's performance, and her dramatic outfits and black hat that looks like a giant sea urchin are a hoot. The girls, Tereszkiewicz and Mardier, are never anything but easy on the eyes, and the sets and costumes too are a visual delight that's handsomely shown off by what Guy Lodge in his Variety review calls the "buttery lensing" of dp Manu Dacosse. An energizing and unifying feature is the lively orchestral score (highlighted by an occasional period song) of Philippe Rombi. The Crime Is Mine may not leave a very deep impression, but it has a definite women's lib undercurrent, and at the same time is sure to go down easy. If you are a fan of French cinema you will also enjoy the famous faces and assured thespianism of major stars Fabrice Lucchini, André Dusollier, Dany Boon, and Isabelle Huppert. Also charming as the boyish young journalist Gilbert Raton is Félix Lefebvre, co-star of Ozon's tragic gay romance Summer of 85. Screen Daily proclaims this new film "A willfully theatrical, proudly retro yet delectably pertinent confection."

The Crime Is Mine/Mon crime, 104 mins., debuted at Angers Jan. 23, 2023, and showed at some other festivals before opening in Paris Mar. 8, 2023 and in many other countries throughout the rest of the year. It is now showing in NYC (Quad Cinema) and San Francisco (Opera Plaza). AlloCiné press rating: 4.0 (80%). The French critics see more than we do - subtitles just can't capture blitzkrieg dialogue - and the Metacritc rating is 72%.

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