3 stars (out of four)
Sometimes, it takes only a moment to change a life--for better or worse. In Denis Dercourt's classical music thriller "The Page Turner," a little girl named Melanie Prouvost (Julie Richalet), who is playing piano in a jury competition for a scholarship and a chance to escape her petit-bourgeois background for a musician's life, has her concentration disrupted and the audition ruined when the jury head, famed concert pianist Ariane Fouchecourt (Catherine Frot), turns away to sign an autograph for a pushy fan. Frustrated and angry, Melanie abandons the piano, then, years later, meets Ariane again, when she's hired by the pianist's husband, lawyer Jean Fouchecourt, for a file clerk job. Soon, she's brought home by the impressed Jean to take up duties as his young son's guardian.
Ariane doesn't recognize the older Melanie (Deborah Francois), who has blossomed from a gangly young girl to a knockout blond. But then time has markedly changed both women. Ariane has succumbed to paralyzing stage fright after an accident and now, over-sensitive and vulnerable, she badly needs tender handling. Melanie is now almost scarily self-possessed. Aware of her charms and of how to use them she insinuates her way into Ariane's affections and eventually becomes the pianist's crucial assistant, the page-turner at her concerts.
We suspect immediately that revenge of some kind is on Melanie's mind, and so it is--but how painful it may be is something writer-director Dercourt builds up very slowly and subtly, immersing us in psychic pools of chilly anxiety.
Dercourt, a very fine filmmaker, is a musician himself, a music teacher and one-time solo viola player with the French Symphony Orchestra. And he directs, with a musician's precision and an insider's sly wit, the world of classical music performance. Frot ("Me and My Sister"), a superb actress, convinces us absolutely that she's a concert pianist with fragile nerves, someone who could fall apart in a moment and succumb easily to the adroit quasi-lesbian come-ons of Melanie. Then there's Francois, a budding star if ever I've seen one. This is Francois' second feature appearance, after her tremendous debut as the young Belgian street girl/mother in Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne's soulful Cannes Festival Palme d'Or winner "L'Enfant." There, she was touchingly girlish and open; here, she's a terrific femme fatale, so icy and manipulative that she begins to seem unstoppable.
In a way, one empathizes with Melanie, at least at the beginning, because she's been so injured by Ariane; a butcher's daughter, she has her dreams of music and art squashed carelessly by the upper-class, self-absorbed Ariane. But, just as a chamber trio subtly interweaves the sounds of piano and strings, Dercourt delicately balances our sympathies while keeping us aware of how much damage casual cruelty--and later, calculated malice--can inflict.
'The Page Turner'
Directed and written by Denis Dercourt; photographed by Jerome Peyrebrune; edited by Francois Gedigier; original music by Jerome Lemonnier; production design by Antoine Platteau; produced by Michel Saint-Jean. In French, with English subtitles. A Tartan Films release; opens Friday at Landmark's Century Centre Theatre. Running time: 1:25. No MPAA rating (adult, for sensual themes and suggestions).
Ariane Fouchecourt - Catherine Frot
Melanie Prouvost - Deborah Francois
Monsieur Fouchecourt - Pascal Greggory
Virginie - Clotilde Mollet
Laurent - Xavier De Guillebon
Melanie as a child - Julie Richalet