Sunday, September 4, 2011

"Love Crime": Much More Fun than a Good Movie

Of Ludivine Sagnier's performance in the new howler "Love Crime," let me just say that I have not been so moved by an actress since Pia Zadora in "Butterfly." As a senior executive in the Paris office of an "ago-business" firm, Sagnier looks like a thirteen-year-old girl playing dress-up. Some of the dialogue from the business-world scenes has to be heard to be believed: "I speak for all of us," one male colleague tells Sagnier, "when I say you are the perfect woman."

The plot - such as it is - posits Sagnier as an up-and-coming underling to an ice-queen vice president (Kristin Scott Thomas, typecast) who showers her with affection and gifts in private but doesn't blanche at humiliating her in meetings or taking credit for her work and ideas when talking to the guys from headquarters. Playing a snarky, insinuating bitch, KST shows a rare lightness of touch and provides the movie's few intentional laughs - but not its only ones.

"Grab your chance," KST advises Sagnier, when explaining why she co-opted the latter's research study. "Want it, and will it." Inevitably, Sagnier applies KST's counsel against her, stealing first her boyfriend, then a plum assignment that threatens KST's sought-after transfer to New York. Eventually, one of the leads is murdered, and the other implicated in her death. A late plot twist involving Sagnier's trusty male secretary will come as a stunning surprise to those who were sure Ivan Drago would defeat Rocky Balboa.

It's the sort of movie where an easy camaraderie washes over the audience. Each of us in turn was the first to laugh at one scene or another, the others joining in. One scene in particular I will not soon forget: KST has stolen the boyfriend back and Sagnier, who'd dressed to fuck, runs crying to her car, then cries even harder and slaps the car when the alarm goes off, then gets in and promptly drives into a pillar in the parking structure. At key moments in the plot, the soundtrack fills with the sound of a piano being tuned. And some punch lines - Sagnier explains she enjoys running on the treadmill because it allows her head to "go blank" - write themselves.

Too often these days, a movie is said to be "so bad, it's good" or given the label "camp." Most bad movies are just so bad, they're bad. "Camp" does not apply to movies that intentionally aim low - self-parodies, say - but to films that earnestly aspire to art, and fail spectacularly. "Love Crime" solemnly views itself in the tradition of Chabrol and Hitchcock, and but for the script, the acting, and the production, it would be. It's the real McCoy - an instant camp classic.

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