So the reason I watched this is because the forthcoming Brian De Palma film is a remake of it, so I wanted to see the source so I would know what he is referring to. And I have to say, Netflix has hired a very smart person to program their instant selections, because I search to get the disc and, boom, there it is on instant. Having seen it, however, I can begin to understand the negative reviews of the De Palma film, because while this is interesting and has a lot of underlying currents, what it doesn't have is a third act. It's just a one-two and that's it kind of thing.
So we open with Ludivine Sagnier as Isabelle (Isa) and Kristen Scott Thomas as Christine. Who would have ever thought that Kristen Scott Thomas would end up as a French film star post her turns in The English Patient and humble origins in Prince's Under the Purple Moon? Anyway, they're working late, and we see right away that they have some kind of semi-Sapphic relationship with Christine making veiled come-ons to Isa right from the start. Christine gives Isabelle her gray scarf when Isabelle compliments it. Christine's boyfriend Phillippe comes over and Isa leaves, promising to finish their work at home. She does, coming up with a clever idea that she leaves in as a surprise to Christine. We are told that Isabelle has won many contracts for Christine with her clever ideas, which seems unfair to Isabelle's assistant, Daniel. But Isabelle says that she and Christine "are the same," meaning what helps Christine helps her. They are as one.
Christine gets an offer to have a romantic weekend from another lover, and moments later is telling Isabelle to go handle the big pitch in Cairo herself, making it out to be her big chance. Christine suggests that Phillippe go with her. There's a good subtle moment, indicative of the slight manipulations Christine practices upon Isabelle, where Christine says "You should do something with your hair. Let's see it down. No, leave it up." Isabelle goes, her idea sells the contracts, and then Phillippe suggests that they stay another day. They have sex.
When they return, Isabelle is there as Christine gets word that the contract sold, and that her idea (i.e. Isabelle's idea) was brilliant. Christine takes credit for the idea, and says that Isabelle just "repeats word for word" what she said. Isabelle is stunned, but Christine pretends shock. She says there's nothing wrong with what she did, it's teamwork, and that she would expect Isabelle to do the same. "Grab your chance," she says. Because of this contract, Christine is now being promoted to the New York office. Isabelle goes straight to Phillippe, and one can't tell, but later we are to believe that Isabelle is in love with Phillippe, although all it seems like to us is some casual sex. In fact, this is why it's the "love crime." Which would make you think the director would put a bit more effort into making it seem as though there were any kind of love here.
Meanwhile, Christine is instituting a crackdown on all those skimming a bit off the top, which includes Phillippe. They had a deal for him to pay back his money over several weeks, but guess what, she wants it in a week. Christine has noticed that Isabelle is being colder to her, and forces her to say that she loves Christine. Meanwhile, Daniel has discovered a little opportunity for Isabelle, which she conducts on her own without consulting Christine. When Christine discovers, she is not at all happy. Isabelle says she's only done exactly what Christine told her to do, grab her chance. Could this be the beginning of all-out war?
SPOILERS > > >
Christine has bought an apartment in New York... then gets word that her promotion there is not such a sure thing. Her assistant tells her that Christine has moved up a status meeting, and when she runs off, Christine comes into her office and sends herself a threatening email, supposedly from Isabelle. She says she'll keep it and use it to fire Isabelle if she gets out of line. Seriously, in 2010, they are trying to float this storyline. Anyway, then Phillippe calls Isabelle and tells her he must see her, but stands her up. When Isabelle calls, Christine answers and taunts her. Isabelle has several shit fits, first in the elevator, then in a parking garage, which seem disproportionate to what's going on, and you're watching like "Yo, girl, why ya buggin'?" But then in retrospect you put together that we're supposed to understand that Isabelle wasn't just fucking Phillippe, she was in LOVE.
Then Isabelle starts conspicuously taking some pills, making sure everyone at work sees her. We don't find out what they are until the end. Then we see her putting on gloves and switching a file in Christine's office. Then we see her (still with the gloves) put the file in an envelope, and later entrusts it to her sister. There is also some moonlight wandering at her sister's house, which we will come to understand later. Somewhere in here, Christina shows video of Isabelle's breakdowns, recorded via security camera, at a party and humiliates her. A few days later, Christine is saying goodbye to guests at a party when--she's stabbed! And the killer is: Isabelle! I would have loved it if Isabelle woke Christine up long enough for her to die knowing it was her, but the French, they don't have that American bloodlust, I guess.
Isabelle places a ripped piece of the scarf Christine gave her in her hand, and uses Christine's finger to write "Isa" in Christine's blood. Why would she do such things? Well, watch and learn, grasshopper. She goes home and can't sleep. She furiously washes her sink. She calls in sick in the morning. When the police come knocking, she's in a daze, saying she's taken a ton of sleeping pills. She can't produce any proof of her whereabouts, and eventually confesses that she did it. A woman from the knife store comes in to say she remembers Isabelle coming in to buy the knife, because she was such a bitch. We have a flashback, and anyone who's read Double Indemnity will surmise that Isabelle was such a bitch precisely so the woman would remember her. Anyway, the evidence is overwhelming. Case closed!
Or... is it? A day or so later, Isabelle says no, she didn't do it, now that her head is clear, she sees that. We have more flashbacks of her making scenes so people will remember her, including the movie clerk who says she was there during the crime. She bought another knife, which she says she damaged, and the police find the damaged knife at her sister's house. Then she goes to her apartment and finds the untorn scarf, and--she's free! Then, guess what? Her sister mails the file, and soon Phillippe is being arrested for the murder. And Isabelle hid the damaged scarf in his car. Revenge is sweet!
Isabelle is now executive Vice President. Daniel comes in, and tells her he knows the whole thing--he had one of her pills examined and realizes they were placebos. He says "Don't worry, you're safe--for now." He tells her "You're not like her. She couldn't kill for love." Then Isabelle lies awake, realizing that now she's a target, and has entered herself into a dangerous, ongoing game. The end.
It was engaging while it was going on, but once it's over you realize it had more of a one-two story than a one-two-three story, and thus it feels a little anemic. The best parts are the first half, where the interpersonal warfare with deceits and humiliations and weird codependence are intriguing. We know, since we've seen Isabelle don gloves to place files around, that she's got a grand scheme, so all there's to do in the second half is watch how it unravels. Despite her confession and all, we know perfectly well that she has the situation in hand. There might be some mild interest in her placing her case in the context of people coerced into false confessions, which she twists to provide even more proof of her innocence, and the way she frames Phillippe by making it look as though he's framing her. But there's no suspense, just waiting for the plot to be revealed.
< < < SPOILERS END
Because of this, interest slowly deflates over the second half, until you're just waiting to find out the answer so you can go to bed. Then other things start looking weak, like the whole idea that one email could be proven to "come from your computer" and couldn't easily be disproven or at least cast into high doubt. It's as if the writer simply wasn't that familiar with email, and again, this came out in 2010, when pretty much everyone knew better. I wonder if they'll try to keep this ruse in the De Palma version (they do). The movie also pretends that DNA simply doesn't exist, so certain scratches on Isabelle's arm are never matched with Christine's fingernails. And the whole evidence switcheroos... I'm beginning to suspect that this was adapted from something written in the 50s. It's just out of date with current crime technologies.
As for the whole thing, eh. Interesting idea, and would have been super-fun to just continue with the interoffice warfare, but no. So the movie just comes as much less than hoped, which makes one wonder what De Palma saw in it that he wanted to explore in a remake. I can kind of see where me might get into the semi-lesbo intrigue and elaborate deception aspects, but... there's just not that satisfying a story here. And De Palma's remake, which has already played festivals, has gotten terrible reviews, and... given this film, it's not hard to see why. De Palma often has a tendency to shoot himself in the foot a little bit, and while it's part of his charm... as a fan, I would also like to see him succeed, you know?
Anyway, not bad, well made, well-acted, amusing, but far from essential.
If you want to see it before the De Palma version, or if you have a taste for good-enough French films.