Ah, the corporate world, how one longs for its vitality and humanity! Even the most hidebound apologists of market mechanisms may not quite believe that last sentence; on the other hand, capitalism's most adamant critics have gone so far as to claim that the system is utterly incompatible with morality, although some of their proposed replacements have proven to be just as ruthless. Whatever one thinks of capitalism in its myriad guises, its aim has always been and will always be the accumulation of wealth; it is the use, distribution, and actual value of this wealth which remain rather volatile topics. So if you are a rising star in such an enterprise, say, a multinational corporation with its sleek towers and suits, a symphony of metallic ribbons, you would probably be wise to steer your own goals in the selfsame direction. All efforts, all thoughts, every fiber of your creative being should be harnessed to make your company rich, richer, and richest, because you, lone mortal, can only benefit from such an arrangement. That is, of course, unless that other commendable aspect of capitalism, unfettered competition (as only Darwin himself could have envisioned), indicates that despite your hole-hearted commitment to greed, your star is not ascending as quickly as that of your colleague down the hall, at which point a few more typically capitalist manoeuvres may be attempted. And you will find those manoeuvres, bereft of any vitality or humanity whatsoever, in this recent film.
We are fortunate enough to have not one but two leading ladies, and lead us they most certainly will. The first is Christine Rivière (Kristen Scott Thomas), executive vice-president of the French branch of an American corporation whose specific products and services are never disclosed, probably for more than one reason, but let us move on. Christine occupies a splendid house somewhere in Paris, yet dreams of taking Manhattan by storm (there is, as it were, no other real way to take it). After a series of machinations and double-dealings, she will gain such an opportunity, and the person she should thank is her much younger subordinate, Isabelle Guérin (Ludivine Sagnier). Isabelle's attitude to corporate culture does not seem to match Christine's; that is to say, while Christine appears perfectly capable of bilking her own mother if that's what will assure her fortune and reputation, Isabelle's world view is far more nuanced. From time to time she will flash a predatory fang but, like most animals, more in self-preservation than bloodthirsty pursuit. When we first meet the two women at Christine's palatial home, we can sense jolts from a clear sexual undercurrent (Christine even sneaks in a kiss in a manner reminiscent of a chop-licking middle-aged lecher). Soon enough, however, we learn that what we perceived as physical attraction has much more to do with power, much in the same way that sexual assault has invariably been portrayed as a need for control. As Isabelle devises one brilliant business solution after another – again, we are never made privy to the details – Christine decides to send her underling in her stead to an important conference in Cairo. That she also dispatches thither her weaselly lover Philippe (Patrick Mille), the type of guy whose charm is limited to embracing one woman while winking across the room at another, should tell you all you need to know about our executive vice-president. When between Isabelle and Philippe the all-too-inevitable occurs, Christine takes another, far more cruel step (New York is at stake, after all), one she will regret monumentally and one which triggers a domino effect that will be left to the curious viewer to discover.
The last completed work of this well-known director (who died days after its release), Love Crime is remarkable among high-quality films in that it contains nary a single memorable line of dialogue. Instead, we are treated to masterful acting and a tortuous script that may in hindsight seem implausible simply because we, unlike the dramatis personae, have already been let in on a secret. Scott Thomas is perfectly cast, not only because her angular good looks begin to resemble a knife rack, but also thanks to her natural comfort as a self-contained, almost regal entity. Sagnier has a crooked face, specifically an unevenly arched pair of brows, that can under no circumstances be considered beautiful, although many would not hesitate to consider it interesting. Her gamut of expressions would be extraordinary in any actor, much less one of her callowness, and it is from these expressions that we may derive the dialogue that the characters are not permitted to utter aloud. One of the finest moments in this regard is when Isabelle appeases an aggressive customer waiting in line behind her with a peppermint that alters his attitude entirely; another such instance is when she visits her sister, whose plain, family-based existence sheds some light on Isabelle's true motivations. Yet for all its wiles and atmosphere, Love Crime suffers from two shortcomings. The first is its title (faithful to the original Crime d'amour): while there is certainly a crime or two or three, depending on how you view matters, the love component, pace what one character asserts very late in our film, has to be deemed dubious at best (alas, this has not impeded an overtly eroticized English-language remake). The second flaw has to do with how a police inspector – yes, the police will become closely involved in the lives of our leading ladies – handles an alibi. What detective could possibly believe that being able to recount every detail of a movie means that you must have seen that movie on the night you claimed? I have pondered this point from every conceivable angle, and am now convinced that something else is in play, as evidenced by that same detective's actions in another scene. If this is not so, then the entire structure of the police procedural collapses rather violently, even if all the other pieces fit so well. Just like a lovely present wrapped in metallic ribbons.