In recent times it seems that many French films have made a specialty of intelligent takes on the more grimy side of working life. Read My Lips (Sur Mes L?es), made in 2001 by 50-year-old Parisian writer/director Jacques Audiard, continues this tradition. Those familiar with French cinema will be aware that Jacques is the son of Michel Audiard, an optician-cum-racing cyclist turned journalist who took up screen writing and directing in the late 1940s and was known during the 50s and 60s for his bright dialogue and films with extraordinarily long names.
Read My Lips is Jacques Audiard’s fourth film as director. Like his father, he has a long, established reputation for writing award-winning screenplays, having won Best Screenplay at Cannes in 1996 for his film A Self Made Hero (Un h?s tr?discret) and a C?r in 2002 for Read My Lips. Audiard describes his latest work as a love story in which the characters never make love.
Read My Lips, which opened the French Film Festival in Sydney this year, is an offbeat film, a sort of psychological drama served up as a romantic thriller with a caper twist. Emmanuelle Devos (Artemisia) plays Carla, an office worker who is deaf and the subject of some mistreatment and discrimination.
Emmanuelle is not attractive in the conventional French sense but is rather more oddly alluring than is usually seen on screen. Devos won a Best Actress C?r for this role, beating Audrey Tatou (Am?e). The evergreen and talented Parisian, Vincent Cassel (Brotherhood Of The Wolf, Crimson Rivers), plays Paul, an ex-con desperate to stay on the straight and narrow so he won’t have to go back to gaol. Audiard’s screenwriting skills come to the fore in this film where characters matter so much more than crimes and misdemeanours as you are drawn into the murky depths and twists of the plot.
This film is really a character analysis of two oddballs, seemingly losers on the fringes of society who are initially drawn to each other for very different reasons. Carla is not your usual, saintly disabled person. She is cruel, manipulative, jealous, bitter and keen to take revenge on her work mates. Neither character is easily likeable and Audiard cleverly uses this to create an ominous atmosphere. Sound is also well used as we are subjected to what Carla hears and does not hear. Mathieu Vadepied’s cinematography is stylish and helps create the frenetic and fluid pace of the film.
Read My Lips pays tribute to both Hitchcock’s Rear Window and Louis Malle’s Lift To The Scaffold. If there is a drawback it is Emman-uelle’s amazing ability to speak so clearly and the use of repetition which makes the film drag a little. These faults are more than compensated for by Audiard’s ability to keep you guessing right to the end. See it before Hollywood remakes it.