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    The Page Turner (2006) – Movie Review

    By Robert L. Jones | April 6, 2007

     

    It's like... like she's studying you, like you was a play or a book or a set of blueprints - how you walk, talk, eat, think, sleep

    It's like... like she's studying you, like you was a play or a book or a set of blueprints: How you walk, talk, eat, think, sleep

    Rondo Vizioso più Agitato

    Rating: 4/5 ★★★★☆ 

    The Page Turner (La Tourneuse de Pages). Starring Catherine Frot, Déborah François, Pascal Greggory, Xavier de Guillebon, Christine Citti, Clotilde Mollet, Jacques Bonnaffé, Antoine Martynciow, Julie Richalet, Martine Chevallier, André Marcon, and Arièle Butaux. Music by Jérôme Lemmonier. Cinematography by Jérôme Peyrebrune. Editor-in-Chief, François Gédigier. Written by Denis Dercourt and Jacques Sotty. Directed by Denis Dercourt. (Tartan Films/Diaphana Films, 2006, Color, 85 minutes, in French with subtitles. MPAA Rating: Not Rated).

    Thanks to the people of France—who’ve finally come to their senses and reversed the course of national suicide on which they were careening, by electing Nicholas Sarkozy as their president—I can now avail myself of fine products of that nation, which I had hitherto been boycotting. I am now free to gorge on toasted Camembert and wash it down with my favorite Bordeaux wine, Mouton Cadet Rosé (I know, I know–Rosé!–how gauche of me). My little boy Evan can now laugh at the looney shenanigans of Pepe Le Peu. More significantly, I am able to once again treat myself to Gaul’s outstanding film exports.

    Just in time, too: Writer and director Denis Dercourt’s The Page Turner is quite a brilliant gem of filmmaking. I first approached watching it with trepidation, because the poster touted a suspense movie in the tradition of Alfred Hitchcock and Claude Chabrol. Usually such laudatory advertising hype bears little relation to what’s actually on the screen, by semi-competent directors whose pictures usually bear only superficial resemblance to these masters of suspense, but with only the most vague understanding of what makes a movie suspenseful. Fortunately, such is not the case here: The Page Turner is a brilliantly paced psychological flick that recalls Hitchcock’s Marnie, but more so than Chabrol, it reminded me of François Truffaut’s revenge thriller The Bride Wore Black.

    Déborah François, in just her second leading role (her excellent debut was in The Child in 2005), is icily persuasive as Mélanie Prouvost, an alluring and duplicitous femme fatale. As the credits dissolve, we find her a young girl of eleven, practicing the piano in hopes of winning a coveted scholarship to a musical conservatory. She lives in a comfortable bourgeois flat above her parents’ butcher shop. Her audition, however, is rudely interrupted when a classical music fan rudely asks jury member, famed pianist Ariane Fouchécourt (Catherine Frot), for an autograph. Unable to pick up where she left off, Mélanie fumbles her way through the rest of the piece. Fuming as she leaves the audition, she goes home and stows away the bust of Beethoven that graced her family’s upright piano, presumably forever.

    We next see Mélanie as an attractive young lady, working as a filing clerk at a Paris law firm. Although of demure demeanor, she nonetheless projects an intense determination in her hard-set eyes. She quickly obtains a position from her boss (Pascal Greggory) as nanny for his son, at his country estate. Soon, we learn the reason why: M. Fouchécourt’s wife is the musician whose insensitive autograph signing crushed the younger Mélanie’s hopes of embarking on a career as a concert pianist a decade before.

    In short order, Mélanie insinuates herself into the family’s daily life, as she goes outside of her job description to help their son Tristan (Antoine Martynciow) with his piano studies, and by becoming Ariane’s assistant. Instead of the arrogant virtuoso of ten years before, Mélanie finds Ariane shaken by an automobile accident, and humbled by a case of nerves and stage fright. As if on cue, Mélanie volunteers her services as Ariane’s page-turner. Because of her pianistic knowledge, she proves herself an adept and sensitive collaborator during rehearsals of the trio to which Ariane belongs, and immediately wins the older woman’s trust and friendship.

    Methodically, Mélanie exploits the situation through a series of connivances that places Ariane in a desperate state of dependence upon her charge. She’s as calculating as Anne Baxter in her defining role in All About Eve, but, strangely, Mélanie is so cold that she’s oblivious to the bounties of fame and fortune; her sights are set solely on Ariane’s demise.

    Photography director Jérôme Peyrebrune’s shots are almost all static, objective; this tale of deceit is told almost entirely through editor François Gédigier’s exactingly tight montage. The tension is further notched up through composer Jérôme Lemmonier’s minimalist score for strings, which underscores Mélanie’s monomaniacal obsession. The use of Schubert’s “Notturno” trio and Shostakovich’s agitated Second Piano Trio are brilliant counterpoint in foreshadowing her evil intentions: Ariane, her violinist and ‘cellist are oblivious to Mélanie’s ploy, but through juxtaposing the young protégé’s fixed stare with the slashing strings and percussive piano beat, director Dercourt skillfully evinces her ruthless cruelty.

    By the end of the film, through an intricate series of twists and turns, Mélanie has wreaked lasting destruction on the entire Fouchécourt family. Although there are many striking parallels between François’s character and Rebecca De Mornay’s chilling performance in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, the revenge Mélanie exacts is of a bloodless variety. Superficially, it’s appropriate payback since the only murder being avenged is the death of Mélanie’s childhood dreams at the negligent hands of Ariane.

    I found both François’s portrayal of Mélanie and her visual depiction quite unsettling: When she is shown outside the context of her plot against Ariane, Mélanie’s life is pitifully empty, her lonesome existence preoccupied with quotidian household tasks and perfunctory phone calls to her parents. After her dirty work is done, she is seen walking along an empty farm road to the train station. But, her face is still an emotional cipher—she exudes neither elation nor guilt. Life goes on, but to what sort of life will Mélanie return?

    Usually, a revenge tale is meant to instill cathartic emotions, either for the hero who has undone a great evil (such as Charles Bronson in Death Wish) or against a villain who’s gone too far (think Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction). Yet, Dercourt does not let Mélanie off so easily: there is no catharsis offered here—only stasis.

    Certainly, we will never be privy (unless there’s a sequel, which is unlikely) to the trebling effects of the pain suffered by Ariane and her family. But, we have witnessed a young girl shoulder a grudge for half her brief life that any sane person would have gotten over in a few months, perhaps a year, and gone back to the drawing board.

    Subtly, Dercourt’s visual narrative turns the tables on its antagonist without her even being aware. By dedicating her life to righting a largely imagined wrong, Mélanie permanently and irrevocably has robbed herself of any semblance of a productive and fruitful life. Disturbingly, The Page Turner demonstrates how placing one’s self-esteem at the mercy of others sabotages any hopes of actually attaining self-esteem. The pages Mélanie turns are only those in a piano score, but fates herself to never turning over a new page in her own life’s book.

    The Page Turner is an instance of a film that truly invokes thought long after the audience has left the theater, and is the most tantalizing suspense movie I’ve seen since David Mamet’s The Spanish Prisoner. Its particular genius is that in an age when most directors today will try to overwhelm viewers with C.G.I. special effects and obvious cinematic pyrotechnics, Denis Dercourt is able to send a shiver right through the viewer through the forgotten art of dramatic understatement and virtuosic montage.

    Robert L. Jones is a photojournalist living and working in Minnesota. His work has appeared in Black & White MagazineEntrepreneurHoy! New York, the New York PostRCA Victor (Japan)Scene in San AntonioSpirit Magazine (Canada), Top Producer,  and the Trenton Times. Mr. Jones is a past entertainment editor of The New Individualist.

    Topics: Dramas, Foreign Films, Independent Films, Movie Reviews, Suspense Movies | No Comments »