Jun 30, 2012

The 24 FPS Top 100 Films: No. 51

The Page Turner [2006]
Dir: Denis Dercourt

Why is it on the list?
Denis Dercourt's film has been called Hichcockian and, while it's every bit good enough to warrant that comparison, its austere visual style, slow burning thrills, setting largely in a single house belonging to a bourgeois family and fascination with classical music all point much more to the influence of Claude Chabrol (an underrated filmmaker too often dismissed as a Hitchcock homage artist himself). Dercourt himself is a classical musician, and that play into the film literally through its story but also in the feel; there's an understanding of rhythm and of high and low notes here that speaks to a musical structure.

The film begins with young Melanie Provoust taking a piano exam, and failing after she's put off when, in the middle of her piece, examiner Ariane Fouchecourt (Catherine Frot), breaks off to sign an autograph. Ten years later a twenty year old Melanie (Deborah Francois) is interning for a man who needs a live in au pair for his son. Melanie takes the job, and we discover that Ariane is the Mother of this family. Melanie soon becomes indispensible, becoming Ariane's page turner for an important performance, and she begins to exploit her place in the family for the purposes of revenge.

The Page Turner is a fascinating film; riveting in the way it draws out the suspense from the second we see that Ariane has become Melanie's employer, right up until its final moments. Most of that is thanks to Deborah Francois, and her brilliantly judged performance. Most revenge movies are clear in at least one thing; the main character is seeking vengeance, and at least attempting to contrive events in a way that will serve their plan to that end. This is never entirely clear in The Page Turner, because Francois plays Melanie with a slight distance, which leaves the extent to which she begins the film with a plan (one certainly comes together over the course of the film), in doubt. For example does she walk into the internship knowing she's working for Ariane's husband? The film isn't telling, and neither is Francois, and that's actually a good thing because you're hooked in by the uncertainty, and the resulting fact that you never quite know where the film will go next.

Francois does more than this though and, in only her second film, gives a performance that is at once obviously totally controlled (because Melanie is almost never off guard) and remarkably natural. The vengeance Melanie contrives is so bizarrely over the top for the provoking slight that the entire film would fall apart if you didn't believe in her every action, but Francois never slips. She's chilling throughout, but also, with her beguiling porcelain beauty and her mystery, totally fascinating, and you see why Ariane and her 12 year old son Tristan are drawn to her.

It wouldn't be right though to say that this is entirely the Deborah Francois show, Catherine Frot – apparently seen mostly in more comic roles prior to this – is similarly excellent as Ariane, giving a convincing portrait of a woman almost crippled by her nerves, and then desperately, almost sadly, grateful at the strength she draws from Melanie. In smaller parts Pascal Greggory (as Ariane's husband) and Antoine Martynciow (as Tristan) also give strong, believable, performances.

For his part Denis Dercourt exerts great control over the film, only moving the camera or cutting shots when there's a real purpose to doing so, but managing to avoid becoming static. Precision is the watchword; in acting, camera movement, shot composition and editing. This level of precision can feel overly constructed, but whenever I watch this film I'm so swept in its tension that I never feel that way about it.

Everything draws together perfectly in The Page Turner, leading to a brilliant ending that tells everything, despite the last couple of minutes of the film featuring no dialogue at all, which somehow makes Melanie's final act of revenge feel all the more powerful, and beautifully contrasts the smallness of what she's actually done with the hugeness of what it means for Ariane. It's a crying shame that none of Dercourt's other films seem to have had UK distribution.

Standout Scenes
The Audition

One tiny, almost insignificant, moment which echoes through the rest of the film.

Melanie exacts a very swift revenge when Ariane's cellist friend makes some unwelcome advances.

Clothes Shopping
Melanie bumps into a friend while out shopping and, for the only time in the film, we briefly see the real, unguarded, Melanie.

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