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    Read My Lips

    There's always a Hitch

    The terrific "Rear Window"-inspired French film "Read My Lips" combines a nod to the master of suspense with a tale of office intrigue and personal drama.


    "Read My Lips" starts out as a workplace drama similar to other labor-oriented French/Belgian films such as "Human Resources" and "The Son," with one difference — the central character is a drone in a white-collar office rather than a craftsman in a factory. If anything, she gets less respect than those blue-collar workers, and even less still because she's deaf.

    Original title: Sur mes l¸vres.
    Directed by: Jacques Audiard.
    Written by: Jacques Audiard, Tonino Benacquista.
    Cast: Vincent Cassel, Emmanuelle Devos, Olivier Gourmet, Olivier Perrier, Olivia Bonamy, Bernard Alane, Cˇline Samie, Pierre Diot, Fran¨ois Loriquet, Serge Boutleroff, David Saracino, Christophe Van de Velde, B™ Gaultier de Kermoal.
    Cinematography: Mathieu Vadepied.
    In French with English subtitles.
    Frazzled and undermined by the disregard and outright sabotage of her co-workers, Carla (Emmanuelle Devos) is about to fall apart completely when her boss suggests she go to the government employment agency and hire an assistant.

    "A man would be best," she tells the employment official.

    "We can't do that," the woman informs her. "The Employment Bureau can't specify gender. Discrimination is against the law."

    "I see."

    "What age?"

    "25 to 30. Make that 25."

    "What else?"

    "He should be friendly. Not too tall. Nice hands."

    Read My Lips  
    Again sensing the drift into dating-service territory, the official suggests, "Well-groomed?"

    "Yes, well-groomed."

    It's a workplace drama with a lot of idiosyncracies, even before the plot starts twisting. When Paul (Vincent Cassel) is sent over by the employment bureau, obviously lying about all his qualifications ("Spreadsheets? Um, yeah, piles of spreadsheets."), and then finally confesses that he's just come from prison ... why, he's everything Carla's been looking for. As it turns out, the office ugly duckling with the hearing aid and the oily-looking ex-con with the leather jacket are a perfect match for each other — in ways neither one dreamed.

    Carla — who, thanks to her lip-reading ability, knows more of her abusive office colleagues' secrets than they imagine — discovers that it's sometimes good to have a thug on your side. Paul — who still has some valuable contacts in the underworld — has an idea for a big score, but he'll need the talents of someone just like her. As the film becomes less about office intrigue and more about a scam spinning wildly out of control, it begins to borrow rather brilliantly from Hitchcock's "Rear Window." Like the "Vertigo"-inspired Chinese film "Suzhou River," it pays homage without copying, and in both cases the results are original and thrilling in their own right.

      Read My Lips
    In its last third, "Read My Lips" ultimately becomes a masterpiece of suspense, with a plot that turns somersaults, surprising discoveries, loyalties that are always in question, and a high-tension climax. But it also works so well because the characters are exceptionally real — imperfect, ignoble, introverted, each with something to learn from the other — and this story captures a moment when their lives turn inside-out. Devos and Cassel are outstanding, and the direction by Jacques Audiard is exceptionally intimate — keeping our main characters close up and even taking us into the head of Clara as she turns her hearing aid up and down, depending on her attitude toward the world. "Read My Lips" is a terrific suspense yarn that's also a big success as a personal drama.

    DECEMBER 31, 2002

    Reader comments on Read My Lips:

  • serge   from hefi, Jun 17, 2005
  • Hi i'm looking for my father   from Jacqueline, Apr 29, 2006
  • My Comments   from Norman Salmon, Jun 18, 2010

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