Crime, thriller, and obsession with a Hieronimus Bosch triphtic .
Based on a novel by Barbara Abel "Un bel age pour mourir" this is a film about greed and rivalry between two women of very different social classes: wealthy ravishing Marie-Line Roussel, born Petersen (Marie-France Pisier), owner of an Art gallery and her naive stepdaughter Marion Roussel (Émilie Dequenne) who does costumes for theatre and lives in her father's run down big house.
Marieline will stop at nothing to get what she wants, which on the surface is to kick Marion out of her big house so as to get quick money for a very pricey painting she wants so badly as to faint while watching it. "The bigger the sacrifice, the bigger the pleasure" she confesses to the cop while showing him the intricacies, perversities and utmost detail of this medieval painting. It may be a bit more than just to complete a medieval work in 3 parts her father somehow had. Her innocence, her childhood? "Rosebud" in the form of the friendly dog which her father didn't save? The film doesn't delve into this, so neither will we.
Suffice to say it, basically her (Mariline) is a born manipulator, both ruthless and canny so as to charge Marion with deeds she has committed, allure her with what she desperately wants (a job), try to poison her son without leaving any trace (probably one of the best scenes visually, death and innocence in the form of some red candy), or pretending she is really a caring stepmother by "buying" Marion's lovely and spoilt child with empty words while doing "charitable work" at the same place that her friend, how timely. Mariline has plenty of tricks into her witch's bag and the films'plot twists will leave you gripped at your seat till the end, including a final scene maybe more akin to Hollywood than classic French film. "Malik Zidi", the copper, is a sleek seducer with a heart for Marion but who also (like Mariline) will stop at nothing to get what he wands, in his case to know the truth & nail the culprit. He also seems to like women in the Roussel family a bit :).
Marieline is of course the central character of the film, and as such, the film delivers a classy evil woman, comparable to Huppert's Mika in Chabrol's masterpiece "Merci pour le chocolat". Like not few of Chabrol's movies, this is a film about women. Supporting roles such as Hélène, Marion's friend and nanny, her very believable grouchy theatre boss (Serge Hazanavicius), the lawyer, etc. are all fine. My only gripe would be Marion's character, a bit too "nice", without malice, vulnerable for being alone with a kid, veering into unemployment, maybe to make her the "perfect victim" in contrast to seemingly powerful Mariline. She even seems to be getting mad in a point, not surprising for anybody who's dealt with a psychopatic personality.
Part cautionary tale, part sheer entertainment, this underdog film deserves wider distribution that it currently got. Specially director Serge Meynard. For my part, I just discovered the novelist, so am looking forward to grabbing one of her novels. And probably, so will you :).
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