Blame beauty prejudice for the fact that the voluptuously va-va-voom Ludivine Sagnier is hard to accept as a brains-behind-the-operation corporate exec in this soapy French thriller. Pulling her hair back, wearing button-up men’s-style shirts and putting on glasses with nerdy black plastic frames somehow only makes her hotter. Just try watching the lovely Ludivine work a conference room without imagining her cooing that she has a head for business and a bod for sin.
Besides that unspoken echo of Melanie Griffith in Working Girl, another thing this methodical murder melodrama has in common with that 1988 romantic comedy is a nasty, credit-stealing female boss. The office-politics payback in store for the higher-up harpy in Love Crime is a considerably more permanent form of termination than the sort Sigourney Weaver received, however.
Sagnier is Isabelle, the wronged right-hand woman to the patronizing and predatory Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas). Besides taking credit for Isabelle’s work, Christine also makes inappropriate — but not entirely unwelcome — employer/employee sexual advances toward Isabelle during an after-hours work-at-home session.
Maybe Christine regarded Isabelle’s ripe deliciousness as a job qualification, one that makes Isabelle more attractive to male clients and an easily accessible treat for herself. Although the movie is set in the present, some of its Mad Men-mentality males are the kind of sexist throwbacks who approvingly refer to Isabelle as “the perfect woman” during a business meeting. And those are the Americans!
The manipulative and apparently bisexual Christine sends her business associate boyfriend Philippe (Patrick Mille) with Isabelle on a junket to Cairo. Christine most likely knows they will become lovers, which will give her something to hold over their heads. Isabelle and Philippe may assume Christine is setting them up, but envious Isabelle can’t resist the opportunity to overcome her inferiority complex to see how the other half loves. And like any man alive, Philippe isn’t about to push irresistible Isabelle away.
The rest of the movie involves strings being pulled, murder being committed and a very drawn out exercise in exoneration that requires much suspension of disbelief.
Alain Corneau, who died at 67 after Love Crime was released last year in France, seems to be working at cross purposes as the film’s director and cowriter (with Natalie Carter). He doesn’t seem to realize that treating most of the movie’s semi-trashy story with tasteful, coldly solemn reverence makes its over-the-top moments look ridiculously out of place. On the restrained side, most of the movie plods along at what charitably could be described as an unhurried pace, especially after the murder is committed. And Pharoah Sanders’ excellent, tastefully minimalist score for tenor sax, koto and wind chimes is used very sparingly, so most scenes play without music.
At the opposite end of the dramatic spectrum, a scene requiring Isabelle to go crying-jag hysterical after a cruel phone call is so laughably overacted it plays like parody. When mean Christine publicly humiliates Isabelle by showing surveillance video of that breakdown to a room full of party guests, the movie truly descends into eye-rolling Dynasty territory. All that’s missing is a gown-ripping catfight, preferably followed by a grappling tumble into a swimming pool.
With better casting and a tonally consistent screenplay, Love Crime could have been more high-class noir than high-gloss phony. Or it could have taken the opposite tack by fully embracing its pulp preposterousness and going full-on garish.
Like a baby-faced bombshell in a business suit, Love Crime is undeniably good looking but not very convincing.