Notes of revenge
by Fabien Lemercier
- A refined thriller set in a world lulled by classical music. Calculated revenge and a confrontation between two exceptional actresses, masterly filmed by an exceptional director
A big success at the 2006 Cannes Film Market, where it was warmly applauded by audiences after its screening in the Un Certain Regard sidebar, The Page Turner [+see also:
interview: Denis Dercourt
interview: Michel Saint-Jean
film profile], the fourth feature by French director Denis Dercourt marks the emergence of a subtle and highly original director on the international scene. Dercourt, who continues to work as an alto and chamber music teacher at the conservatory, is putting his potential on show for all to see by moving away from a traditional type of production system to experiment with genre cinema for the first time. The Page Turner is a multifaceted film under the guise of its intrigue: the story of revenge. Using this classical cinematic theme, Dercourt has composed a highly detailed rigorous script in a musical setting, one very familiar to the director.
In the first movement of the film, a young girl, daughter of a butcher, gives up playing after having failed her entrance exam to the conservatory because of the thoughtless behaviour of a member of the jury, a concert pianist (Catherine Frot). In the second, ten years later, the now young woman (Déborah François) is employed as a babysitter in the family of the musician, wife of a lawyer (Pascal Greggory) in the couple’s lavish isolated manor. In the third, the concert pianist, who goes through a phase of doubt, places all her trust in the new arrival and chooses her as a page turner (for scores) at key upcoming performances in her career. A strange attraction forms between the two women.
In this rectangular framework, the filmmaker first skilfully succeeds in cultivating ambiguity in the motivations of the young woman to the point where it is impossible to tell how far she is willing to go to get revenge and whether she improvises the coincidences as she goes along, or consciously manipulates those around her. Making wonderful use of this obscurity, which keeps the audience on the edge of their seats, Dercourt makes no secret of his admiration for Georges Franju’s The Eyes Without a Face (1959) and reveals a real gift for dealing with suspense. Alternating between peaks of intensity (the swimming pool scene, fit of anger with the double bass player) and almost contemplative spaces, he makes sensitive use of the rules of a thriller while expressing his own personality as a director by using a camera that navigates with a fluid elegance and the discretely suggestive setting. He especially makes the best use of the highly talented actresses, the experienced and charismatic Catherine Frot and the very promising Déborah François. Transformed from her character in The Child [+see also:
interview: Luc & Jean-Pierre Dardenne
film profile] by the Dardenne brothers, with her enigmatic and coldly sensual performance in The Page Turner, the young Belgian actress opens a Hitchkockian chapter in her short career, something that could inspire several filmmakers. Concentrating on the emotional chemistry between the two women, which oscillates between warm and cold, Dercourt envelops his two characters in the same frame, skilfully manipulating their points of view thanks to editing by François Gedigier (editor on several films by Chéreau, Desplechin, Berri, as well as Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark). This feminine confrontation steeped in an atmosphere of menace does not embrace superfluous dialogue, instead giving a predominant role to music, through a realistic, almost documentary-like but splendidly reconstructed fiction that depicts the daily life of an artist (repetitions, auditions, concerts). All this makes The Page Turner a fine film whose psychological ferocity advances secretly behind the mask of contained emotions.
(Translated from French)