Directed by Alain Corneau
Screenplay by Alain Corneau and Nathalie Carter
When two people match wits and try to outmaneuver one-another in a bit of ill-intended one-upmanship, it’s often referred to as ‘cat and mouse.’ Love Crime, the odd film that is both unexpectedly (and perhaps unintentionally) hilarious and frightening at the same time, is rather a game of ‘cat and cat.’
The first cat is Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas). Tall, elegant, and with an ambitious killer instinct, Christine ruthlessly heads a global company at the expense of anyone in her path. Cat number two is Isabelle Guérin (Ludivine Sagnier). Christine’s right-hand-woman, Isabelle, is tightly wound (“Let your hair down,” Christine tells her), dedicated to Christine, and whip-smart.
Falling between them is Philippe (Patrick Mille), whose company holds accounts with Christine’s. Both women sleep with Philippe within the first fifteen minutes of Love Crime and, though the love triangle certainly leads to fraught relationships, it is more the aspirations of Christine and Isabelle that drive the story. Christine claims credit for Isabelle’s work. Isabelle clandestinely takes charge of a valuable account. Christine publicly humiliates Isabelle. And the game goes on until a shocking act of violence abruptly changes its focus.
Love Crime begins right in the middle of a scene. Unlike a more traditionally structured film, which would ask its audience to get to know the characters prior to or concurrent with delving into story, director Alain Corneau’s film asks its audience to play catch-up throughout.
The split-focus, where Christine and Isabelle are equally main characters, causes for peculiar pacing for much of the first thirty minutes of the film. The story rocks back and forth between the two women, each grasping as much for power as for screen-time. This is a daring, but ultimately worthy technique by Corneau. When the game of wits suddenly becomes something much more violent the split focus also abruptly becomes much more singular. The pacing slows, music creeps in more noticeably, and all of a sudden Love Crime is more character study and traditional thriller than its opening would suggest.
There’s much more to like about Love Crime. For one, with small exceptions aside from the two protagonists, Christine and Isabelle function in a male-dominated world. That they are the most successful and the most ruthless frames Love Crime as the rare film willing to let females drive not only the catty narrative, but also the corporate business and legalese that take place within.
In fact, many of the male characters within Love Crime are downright inept. Philippe, for all of the early showiness of his sexual prowess, is quickly proved to be perhaps the only true mouse in the film as he’s fed to the wolves by both Christine and Isabelle on multiple occasions. Later, a male criminal defense lawyer (Julien Rochefort) proves to be perhaps the most ineffective public defender in cinematic history.
Two over-zealous men, representing a partnering American company, are not only literally nameless (read: worthless), but also embody the humor implicit throughout the film. They are a large part of the corporate satire with which Love Crime surprisingly turns comedic. The two men (played by Mike Powers and Matthew Gonder) are bland. They’re always excited. They make insipid remarks and never talk about anything concrete. Their internet-chat and boardroom meetings are hilarious in their look at a corporate system that talks more about hypothetical success than anything of real substance.
The satire extends throughout the film to the props and set design: the same graph pops up multiple times. People constantly drop off and leaf through files. Telephone calls are made. Projections are analyzed. But what this company does? A total mystery.
In some ways, Love Crime represents a step further for women-in-the-business-place films like Disclosure or The Devil Wears Prada. The film oozes sexual tension alongside conspicuously monochrome set and costume design, but doesn’t rely on it. Both women use sexuality to their advantage, but it’s their sheer foresight, intelligence and ambition that are ultimately their chosen claws.