Reviewed by: Carole McDonnell
Starring: Vincent Cassel, Emmanuelle Devos, Olivier Gourmet, Olivier Perrier, Olivia Bonamy | Directed by: Jacques Audiard | Produced by: Jean-Louis Livi, Phillippe Carcassonne | Written by: Jacques Audiard, Tonino Benacquista | Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
The sub-titled French film, “Read My Lips”, is a good old-fashioned action thriller that grabs the viewer with its kind-hearted insecure heroine and never lets go until the fulfilling heist is done. The fact that it touches on juicy elements such as eavesdropping has prompted many reviewers to call it Hitchkockian. Some scenes are indeed reminiscent of “Rear Window”. But it also reminds viewers of the power of the small ignored types, an all-American (and fairy-tale) tradition.
Carla is the secretary for a contracting firm. Her deafness—she uses a hearing aid and read lips—has obviously wounded her ego. She is mousy and insecure and, since this is France, she suffers the subtle ridicule of her co-workers who “diss” her in their subtle office ways. She is also disrespected by her friend who uses her in ways only the truly needy can be used. Hey, Carla wants friends and wants to be liked, respected and empowered. Who should enter her life but Paul, a newly-paroled former inmate with absolutely no office skills but who is in desperate need for a job? Heart cries out to heart: Deaf, rejected, under-the-heel of everyone in the world, Carla knows a fellow downtrodden person when she sees one, identifies with him in some ways and hires him on the spot. Hopefully, a stint in this fine upstanding firm will save Paul from being locked in the cooler for good… if he keeps his hands clean. IF. Some time later, Carla needs him to use his old skills and he, unwillingly, obliges her. Ah obligation!
In his novel Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray warns his readers to be cautious in getting themselves obligated. Not only is Carla obligated to help him—after all what would the boss do if he found out she asked him to break into a rival’s car?— but alas! She is falling in love. (Remember, this is France: The thought of love terrifies her.) Remember, too, that Carla’s disability has prevented her from developing those little manipulative games that are often necessary in the analysis of relationships. However, as always happens in fairytales, the third son, the seventh sister or the youngest daughter—the one no one thought much of—will save the day with her hidden talent and kind heart.
Anyone who has read Shakespeare knows one thing: in Shakespeare’s plays, the main story carries the action—and what action!—and the sub-plot carries the theme. And the sub-plot of this film is The French preoccupation with love and marriage. They know what brings folks together—need, lust, trust, appreciation. And they know what breaks people up—er, need, lust, love, murder. In “Read My Lips”, we have four couples who are in various stages of love/lust/trust. A parole officer who has lost and is looking for his adored wife. A married gangster with many girlfriends and a jealous wife. A cheating wife. Various cheating executives. And our main characters. who cheat on wives. Throughout the film, with the exception of the main characters and the gangster and his wife, only one person from each couple is really seen. People are also involved in “cheating” friends and colleagues also. So the human contract of love is being broken everywhere in all relationships.
Like an old-fashioned fairy-tale, Carla (a sleeping beauty type if ever there was one) and Paul (a frog prince) must work through all sorts of issues to be truly perfect for each other. The fact that their quest begins fairly sweetly and ends up illegal is par for the course in this neat little thriller. It works well.
I don’t think the following warnings are necessary. But I’ll repeat them anyway. Moral people “Don’t steal,” “Don’t commit adultery” And don’t get involved in pre-marital or extra-marital sex. The main characters in this film indulge in all these. But, as I’ve said before, the average viewer of this site knows those basics. But a word should be said about Carla’s utter innocence and her rite of passage into adulthood. Remember the ending of “Grease” when Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) won her guy by losing that innocence and dressing up in black leather? Well, that might have raised a few eyebrows, but hey, the Travolta character was really a sweetie underneath it all. In this case, however, Paul is the real thing—a thug who doesn’t understand unearned kindness, a former inmate who only thinks about himself.
Is it possible for mousy little Carla to save him? Hey, in movies anything is possible. And in fairy tales too. But in real life? As Christians we hear continually about renewed lives. Folks always talk about their repentance and leaving the bad life behind. Okay, Paul doesn’t exactly change his evil thieving ways, but he does learn how to be loved. And—it would seem anyway—he learns how to love others. The question is are we supposed to trust spiritual and emotional changes? Are we supposed to believe that the love and smarts of a good woman can teach a bad guy how to love? The implication at the end of the film is that love is a powerful and dreadful thing… a daimonic Heraclitan fire that could cause major trouble, but we commit to it anyway.
Well, yeah… that’s kinda true. And yep, it’s nice that the characters chose love after all the bad relationships they’ve seen. But, in all honesty, the cynic in me would have warned Carla to keep away from this inmate and—this time at least—turn love down and give up on hope. I guess I’m not as romantic or as Christian as I would like to be. Beware of some brief nudity.