The Page Turner
La tourneuse de pages
Now Showing at: Cincinnati World Cinema on Wednesday, June 27th.
Review by: Larry Thomas
The French do many things differently from us Yanks. In the areas of walking,
wine consumption, personal hygiene, and taking time off from work, they seem to
do almost a 180. Another notable difference is in their filmmaking.
When American studios make commercial fluff, the films are generally unbearable,
lowbrow, insulting garbage. When French filmmakers make commercial fluff, the
end result may be a thoughtful, provocative, intriguing tale of revenge, like
The Page Turner.
Twelve-year-old Melanie has dreams of becoming a famous pianist, and practices
hard. Ariane is a famous pianist, and is on the board of Melanie's audition
for admission to an advanced program. During Melanie's audition, she is
distracted from her performance by a thoughtless, rude interruption from Ariane
from which she cannot recover. Melanie's performance is a disaster, and
she gives up piano for good.
Flash forward about ten years. Melanie is grown up and has taken an internship
at a legal office in Paris. The office is that of Jean, husband of Ariane. From
that internship, Melanie ingratiates herself with Jean by offering to be a part-time
nanny to the couple's young son while Jean is away on a business trip.
It seems that Ariane has lost her confidence due to an automobile accident,
and that her trio has an important concert coming up. Ariane picks Melanie to
be her “page turner,” a very important position, and especially
when the pianist is on the edge.
Now that the set up is in place, we are left to guess what dire consequences
Melanie has dreamed up for Ariane…or perhaps her whole family.
The Page Turner is a beautifully filmed nicely understated thriller in the
style of French suspense master Claude Chabrol. The director is Denis Dercourt,
a musician and music educator, who used his musical knowledge to great effect
as a filmmaker. The use of Bach, Shostakovich and Schubert is striking, as is
the Cesar-nominated original score by Jerome Lemonnier.
The lead performances were also Cesar-nominated: Catherine Frot as Ariane,
is fragile, yet devoted to her music and her family. She feels she is regaining
her self-confidence on stage through the assistance of Melanie acting as her
page-turner. The stunningly beautiful Deborah Francois plays the 20-something
Melanie. Nominated for Most Promising New Actress for this role, she is reminiscent
of the young Catherine Deneuve, delivering a very understated performance. We
know something is going on beneath her placid exterior…but what?
Melding a suspense drama with the world of classical chamber music is an interesting
mix. The story of perceived wrong and the need for revenge has been done many
times on screen, and is nothing new. The chamber music gives it that extra edge
to help keep it fresh.
While The Page Turner isn't in the league of the best works of such French
directing stalwarts as Francois Truffaut, Louis Malle, or Jean-Pierre Melville,
it's still light years ahead of what might be done to the same story in America,
or anything you can see in a plex near you this week.