Read My Lips (Sur Mes Levres)

on September 10, 2001 by Ed Scheid
   "Read My Lips" takes a crime plot as the framework for an unusual character study. Carla (Emmanuelle Devos, "Esther Kahn") is the hard-working 35-year-old employee of a property development company. She wears a hearing aid because of a handicap that has left her intimidated and lonely. Director Jacques Audiard ("A Self-Made Hero") expertly manipulates sound and images to give a vivid sense of Carla's dislocation. Carla, given the opportunity to hire an assistant, writes a job description for a 25-year-old male that resembles a personal ad. She hires Paul ("Brotherhood of the Wolf's" Vincent Cassel), a thief just out of prison who has no business experience.

   Carla and Paul are both frustrated and resentful and use the talents of the other to make up for what each lacks. Passed over for a promotion, Carla wants to use Paul to get back at the employers who have taken her for granted, while Paul gets Carla to read lips from a distance so that he can discover the details about some hidden cash.

   Devos, who received the Best Actress Cesar (French Oscar) for this role, gives a remarkable performance, depicting Carla becoming stronger and more assured as she enjoys her unexpected talent for scheming and manipulation. Devos' expressive face reveals Carla's coiled intensity and rage. Cassel is also a forceful presence as the instinctive Paul.

   The intricate screenplay, co-written by Audiard, also received a Cesar Award. Audiard's skilled direction emphasizes close-ups of Carla and Paul as their continually changing partnership faces increasingly dangerous risks. This focus on character raises "Read My Lips" far above the typical thriller. Audiard successfully maintains suspense on different levels throughout a film that is both gripping and compelling.    Starring Vincent Cassel and Emmanuelle Devos. Directed by Jacques Audiard. Written by Jacques Audiard and Tonino Benacquista. Produced by Jean-Louis Livi and Philippe Carcassonne. A Magnolia release. Drama. French-language; subtitled. Running time: 118 min.

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