erik lundegaard

Crime d

Crime d’Amour (2011)


Google “Hitchcockian thriller” and you’ll get more than 68,000 results, including “Unknown,” “Source Code,” “With Friends Like Harry,” and, yes, “Crime d’amour,” starring Kristin Scott Thomas as Christine, the boss from hell, and Ludvine Sagnier as Isabelle, her sometimes flustered protégé.

What’s Hitchcockian about it? Ten minutes into the movie, we get this scene. Christine and Isabelle are about to leave Paris for Cairo on a business trip when Christine—with a better offer, an apparent weekend fling—decides to send Isabelle alone. She offers this advice: “You should do something with your hair. Let’s see it down.”

Isabelle, blonde and pretty, obliges. For a moment, a belittling amusement shines in Christine’s eyes. Then she shrugs.

“Keep it up,” she says, dismissing her and going back to work.

Alfred Hitchcock, lover of pretty blondes with their hair in a chignon, would surely agree.

But that’s about as Hitchcockian as we get.

Yes, there’s a crime, and the wrong person is accused. But Hitchcock was a pungent filmmaker. He loved the horrific reveal, the discordant clang on the soundtrack. He wanted to push our faces in it. “Crime d’amour,” in comparison, is distant. The film itself is an icy cool blonde.

(More on Hitchcock later.)

The movie begins with a late-night brainstorming session between Christine and Isabelle at Christine’s mansion. Ideas are tossed out and Christine flirts with her subordinate in a way that flirts with illegality—at least under U.S. law. She comes up close to her. She tells her she smells good. She gives her a scarf. Then her lover, Philippe (Patrick Mille), shows up, and Isabelle, flustered, possibly hot-and-bothered, is told to leave by the back door.

Christine is hardly the perfect boss. When the Cairo meeting goes well because of an innovation from Isabelle, Christine takes credit—in front of Isabelle. But when Isabelle, spurred on by her subordinate, Daniel (Guillaume Marquet), hides her latest idea from Christine—an idea that will raise company value by 20 percent—she gets sole credit, and the D.C. mucky-mucks, suspecting Christine’s subterfuge, delay her promotion to New York. Thus begins Christine’s revenge. She uses Philippe, with whom Isabelle became intimate in Cairo, to set up and stand up Isabelle, then films Isabelle’s emotional response and shows it during an office party “pour rire,” she says. For a laugh. From Isabelle’s computer, she sends herself a threatening note, then threatens to use it, this fictitious threat, against the younger woman if she doesn’t fall in line.

Isabelle’s reaction? She slits Christine’s throat.

On one level, I was disappointed. Really? No more Christine? That’s as bad as the boss-from-hell gets?

On another level, I was amused. Christine is busy playing feminine cat-and-mouse games, attempting to destroy her rival’s spirit bit by bit, and Isabelle’s response is as male as it gets. Nothing “bit by bit” about it.

Finally, I was intrigued—at least initially. In the aftermath of the killing, which was sudden and clean, Isabelle incriminates herself. She cuts off a bit of a scarf Christine gave her and puts it in Christine’s right hand. Then she takes Christine’s left hand, dips it in the blood that’s been pooling on the floor, and uses it to write out “I-S-A...” Then she goes home, calls in sick for the day, and waits for the police. When they arrive, she acts dazed. At the police station, they confront her with the threatening email, and, still dazed, she confesses. Off to prison.

All the while we’re wondering: What is she up to? More, what is writer-director Alain Corneau up to? Why does he reveal her culpability so early? Why not delay the murder scene, give us calling in sick and being hauled downtown and prison, so we’ll assume Isabelle is falsely accused? So we may even assume Christine masterminded the whole thing? Why give up all that?

Back to Hitchcock for a moment. One of the initial criticisms of “Vertigo,” which is now considered one of the greatest movies ever made, was how the filmmaker revealed the backstory of Judy Barton (Kim Novak) to us before Scotty (James Stewart) could figure it out. Some critics complained that, in doing so, Hitchcock sacrificed mystery for suspense, but Hitchcock was always willing to do this. He was always about suspense before mystery. He wanted us on the edge of our seats.

Corneau’s big reveal does the opposite. He sacrifices the suspense of the wrongly accused for the mystery of “What is she up to?” Our uncertainty for the rest of the movie isn’t anxious or excited, as with Hitchcock; it’s intellectual. We’re not on the edge of our seats. We’re leaning back, wondering. In this way, “Crime d’amour” isn’t Hitchcockian at all; it’s anti-Hitchcockian.

Surely, I wondered, Corneau has a good reason for letting the air out of the movie. Surely Isabelle has some kind of master plan that will make us all go, “Ahhh!”

She does, but it makes us go, “Eh.”

Isabelle sets herself up only to free herself, as a way of getting past the incriminating email threat. She knew she would be a suspect so she made herself one, then planted the evidence that would set herself free and imprison Philippe. Afterwards, she is welcomed back at the company, gets Christine’s office, and continues on her upward business trajectory.

But so what? She kills Christine without Christine knowing it. Is that revenge? Plus she tarnishes her own name in the process. Was there no better way?

Then there’s the mystery of the title: “Love Crime.” Isabelle’s love for Christine, one assumes. Philippe is an afterthought here. He’s a plaything between two cats—one a housecat, the other a lion. But that makes the crime even more incomprehensible. Doesn’t all the fun go out for Isabelle after Christine is extinguished? Doesn’t she need Christine there to witness her triumph? She’s able to increase a company’s worth by 20 percent in her spare time but can’t she come up with a better revenge plot than this?

Cue Hitchcock. Harrumph.

—September 5, 2011

© 2011 Erik Lundegaard