read my lips [sur mes lèvres] (2002)


director: jacques audiard

vincent cassel, emmanuelle davos, olivier gourmand

The genius behind making the protagonist of your movie deaf is the kind of thing that will require the spectre of Alfred Hitchcock to be yanked from his unquiet grave and dusted off once again. Poor old Hitch was constantly being dragged out to bless Brian DePalma's 80s films - Dressed to Kill, Body Double and Blow Out - a benediction that would have been more graceful if DePalma wasn't working so awfully hard to invite it.

Read My Lips director Jacques Audiard has managed to make a Hitchcock-esque thriller that in now way resembles Hitchcock's films. In place of glamorous protagonists like Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant he gives us Carla (Emmanuelle Davos), an aggresively plain, lonely, deaf receptionist at a Paris architecture firm, and Paul (Vincent Cassel), a seedy, sinewy parolee who lies his way into a job as Carla's assistant. Hitchcock's toothsome technicolor has been replaced by a bruise-blue tint, and his expansive widescreen shots by almost constant handheld closeups. Audiard begins closing the walls in on us from the first shot, in order to give some sense of Carla's physically and emotionally circumscribed world.

Carla, who seems like a hopeless pushover at first, quickly shows a devious but adamant will when she forces Paul to steal case files from a salesman at the firm, who she blackmails him into quitting. He returns the favour by drawing her into his scheme to steal stolen money from the wannabe gangster owner of the nightclub where he moonlights, enlisting the girl to read the lips of his boss and the thugs he's hired for the heist from a perch on a freezing rooftop.

There's a double-cross, and a nail-biting last twenty minutes, and a lot of wildly implausible plot holes that a good director will make you overlook until after the film. Audiard, gratefully, is a good director, and Cassel and Davos a pitiable pair of antiheroes that you actually want to see overcome their hopeless fate by the time the credits roll.