Lost in Office Space, by David Bax

There’s an irony to pretty much any major movie about the dehumanizing nature of corporate culture and the soullessness of the ambitious, scheming, cutthroat types who rise within it. In truth, most of the people working in the entertainment field who have the power to get these movies made are likely to be the real life counterparts to these characters. That said, it’s not even clear if condemning these kinds of people is the actual goal of Alain Corneau’s Love Crime. Really, apart from the plot, it’s unclear what this movie is about at all.

Love Crime is the story of a woman named Isabelle (Ludivine Sagnier). Isabelle is a rising star at her workplace, the Paris branch of an international corporation. The head of this local headquarters is Isabelle’s boss, Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas). Christine is an awful, manipulative, possibly sociopathic person who will use any tactic – and any person – to further her status. Of course, what the film doesn’t want to say out loud is, so is Isabelle. She didn’t get to her position in the company by donating to charity. But when Isabelle’s ambition gets the best of her and she goes behind Christine’s back, the two begin a merciless contest of social and professional one-upmanship.

That description is a little simpler and a lot more coherent than the film itself, which seems confused as to the actual motivation behind Isabelle and Christine’s contests. At times, it’s certainly about business ambitions. At other times, it’s suggested to be inspired by romantic jealousy when Isabelle begins a supremely unlikely relationship with someone with whom Christine had a previous affair. And finally, it is perhaps Isabelle’s humiliation at one of Christine’s more public schemes that drives her. The film seems to settle, at least for a time, on this third explanation, which is a shame because it’s the least interesting one. It makes Isabelle a weaker human being than we’d been led to believe. She’s not the person whose side we were supposed to have been on. Whether or not you will ever be on Isabelle’s side depends, I would guess, on your moral flexibility.

Most of the movie’s second half focuses on Isabelle’s grandest scheme, a multi-layered process whose details are doled out to the viewer in order to string us along, tempting us to try to solve the puzzle ourselves. Plot point by plot point, it’s a serviceable mystery but, by the time it enters into the picture, we’ve lost any ability to relate to Isabelle that we might have had earlier on. As a result, the particulars of the plan are hollow and rote, engaging the audience in only the most superficially cognitive way. Other than these trite pleasures, Love Crime is far more boring than a movie with such subject matter should ever be.

Sagnier and Thomas are marvelous actors and most of their work is more than worth seeking out. But even they seem under the spell of this somnambulant screenplay, turning in broad and shallow performances. They probably had more fun playing the parts than we do watching them but there’s no evidence of the work and investment that goes into the most effective roles. Most of the people involved in the making of this film seem to have been operating at half speed, thinking “it’s only a movie.”

More evidence of the lack of imagination that went into the picture comes in the form of a nagging pet peeve of mine; conspicuous non-nudity. When a post-coital Isabelle painstakingly wraps herself in a laughably convenient towel before getting out of bed and walking to the bathroom, my eyes rolled. This is not the pre-pubescent boy in me complaining about not getting to see bare breasts. It’s just that it’s unrealistic and lazy filmmaking. If you want to avoid nudity, why not simply frame the shot so that you can’t see the actor’s body? Nobody is this demure during and immediately after sex. And if they are, it should be for reasons having to do with character, not because the director wished to avoid discomfort either in his audience or on his set.

Discomfort among the audience can’t be avoided here, though. It will only grow as the minutes tick on. In addition to being set in that wearisome strain of the middle class in which a whole lot of French movies take place, Love Crime continues its lazy streak by essentially being a mash-up of The Devil Wears Prada and Law Abiding Citizen. Despite the pedigree in its cast, that’s about the company it deserves.

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