Love Crime (Crime d’Amour), 106 mins, rated M, opens in cinemas 4 August 2011.


(This is my review as published in the August 2011 issue of The NSW Law Society Journal)

Love Crime is 3 films in one. For the first 45 minutes or so, it’s a tense drama of office politics. Kristin Scott-Thomas, in cracking form, is a passive-aggressive boss who likes to manipulate her underlings. Her bright young protégée (Ludivine Sagnier) is willing to take a few low blows from her boss for the good of the company. Add an office romance, and sexual attraction – then competition – between the boss and the young executive, and you have a potent mix.

But that’s not all. Suddenly we are plunged into a murder mystery – the kind that Hitchcock would have loved. To Hitch, it was never important whodunit. What interested him was the suspense involved in finding out whether the innocents can prove their innocence, and whether justice is done in the end.

In Love Crime we see the crime at about the half-way point, but things only get more complicated from there. You may work out what’s going on soon enough, but there’s still the detail of how and why it happened, and whether the culprit will get away with it. In a whodunit, that’s part of the fun, even if it sometimes stretches credulity.

The third part of the film is pure police procedural. Lawyers will be interested to see the French “inquisitorial” system of justice in action. Once the police prepare the case, and a confession is obtained, it is handed to the judge to run. In the English subtitles, this is glossed over, and the senior person who runs the case after the confession might appear to be a senior detective. But if you understand a little French, you will hear the defence lawyer identifying him as “Monsieur le juge”. The role of the judge is extensive, even after the case has been resolved.

This is not a flashily directed film. It’s director and co-writer was Alain Corneau (Tous les Matins du Monde, 1991). Sadly, he died just 2 weeks after the film’s release in France, of lung cancer, aged 67. Some critics have dismissed him as a “journeyman” director, but Love Crime has some stylistic elements about it that I particularly like.

First, for a film with 3 distinct sections, it scoots along, running a little over one-and-three-quarter hours. Next, Corneau gives the film a wonderfully anodyne look – sleek and corporate –¬ which makes the murder itself feel all the creepier. The scenes in the gaol are shot to look just as sleek, grey and clinical as the scenes in the high-rise offices. Finally, I like the way the flashbacks look like grainy black-and-white footage from a security camera. This is even more effective, given there’s a sequence where actual security camera footage proves crucial to the motive for the crime.

The bilingual Scott-Thomas (Sarah’s Key, 2010, Nowhere Boy, 2009, Gosford Park, 2001, The English Patient, 1996), who has lived in France since she was 19, plays Christine with frightening “froideur”. She toys with her underlings, takes credit for their ideas, then suggests that she’s only trying to teach them how to get ahead in this cynical world. Ludivine Sagnier (8 Women, 2002, Swimming Pool, 2003) is her extremely competent junior executive – at first, she’s a bright, obedient lackey, but she soon learns how the world works, and begins to apply her considerable management skills (she’s “borderline obsessive”) to the problem at hand.

US director Brian de Palma has his eye on Love Crime for a Hollywood remake, to be called Passion. That’s not surprising, given de Palma is a great Hitchcock fan. But don’t wait for that version, due in 2012. If you see the French original, you can impress friends with your knowledge of the role of the judge in the French judicial system. For lawyers, the American version of Love Crime can’t possibly have that extra “frisson”.