Having slunk onto UK screens for the first time last year – presumably to pre-empt the release later in 2013 of Brian De Palma’s English language remake Passion (2012) – French director Alain Corneau’s Love Crime (Crime d’amour, 2010) is a muddled and ultimately unsatisfying attempt at making a tense, psychosexual European thriller. Even the presence of Kristin Scott Thomas as Machiavellian antagonist-cum-victim Christine is unable to shake this frustratingly inconsistent game of ‘cat-and-cat’ into life, with the usually dependable Ludivine Sagnier arguably coming off worst as put-upon plaything Isabelle.
Set for large portions amidst the shimmering glass offices of a powerful multinational corporation, high-powered business executive Christine (Scott Thomas) and her keen-to-impress assistant Isabelle (Sagnier) both initially play out their respective master/apprentice roles with great aplomb. However, after securing a lucrative deal on a business trip abroad with Christine’s smooth boyfriend Philippe (Patrick Mille) – for which her boss takes full credit – Isabelle suddenly and almost inexplicably finds herself on the wrong side of her domineering and sadistic senior. With battle lines now drawn, the two enter into a high-stakes game of seduction and manipulation, with ultimately cataclysmic consequences.
What could have been a pacy, sexually-charged French thriller sadly reveals itself as nothing more than a damp squib, a by-the-numbers drama that asks very little of either its perfectly decent cast or audience. As malevolent über bitch Christine, Scott Thomas does the very best she can with extremely meagre material, scowling her way from one scene into the next. Sadly, Sagnier is far less impressive this time round as the mousy Isabelle, who effectively loses audience sympathy halfway through Love Crime’s narrative after committing a heinous act of cold-served revenge. Matters aren’t exactly helped by the film’s middling to poor direction and dialogue – more camp and hammy than genuinely enthralling.
After a hit and miss opening half – with Scott Thomas the unrivalled highlight – Corneau’s Love Crime transforms into a relatively plain and generic police procedural from the perspective of the guilty party. Both Sagnier and the script clearly struggle with this change of pace and direction, with Corneau introducing a series of far-fetched contrivances, each more illogical than the last. Crucially, by this point the physically and emotionally drained Isabelle has lost whatever moral high ground she may once have claimed, leaving the audience to either side with her scheme for absolution or lose interest entirely. In some cases at least, the latter may be almost an inevitability.
Hampered by a humdrum plot and some underdeveloped psychosexual undertones between Christine and Isabelle, Corneau’s Love Crime may only truly satisfy die-hard fans of the talent involved. Anyone looking for the next cult French hit to wash over these shores should continue the search, as it sadly isn’t to be found here.