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Far from Faultless, yet intriguing and definitely off-the-wall, French writer-director Sebastien Marnier’s debut feature stars comic actress Marina Fois (Daddy or Mommy) as a femme fatale returning to her hometown in the hopes of landing a job as a real estate broker. That doesn’t sound like much of a premise for what gradually transforms into a bizarre and head-scratching psychological thriller, but if you’re willing to stretch credulity a bit and go along for the ride, the film offers up minor rewards.
Fois plays the 40-something Constance — a woman on the verge of either a nervous breakdown or a multiple homicide — who arrives in her quiet ‘burb to supposedly take care of her coma-stricken mother, while trying to get hired at the property brokerage she worked at years ago. But from her very first meeting there, where she reconnects with an old flame, Philippe (Jeremie Elkaim), and learns that the firm’s beautiful young intern, Audrey (Josephine Japy), may take her place, Constance is clearly unwelcome and spends the rest of the movie only making things worse.
The motivations behind her increasingly troubling behavior, which includes befriending and spying on Audrey in the hopes she’ll get her to skip town, are never really made clear in Marnier’s screenplay, which dabbles in De Palma territory (stakeouts, break-ins and voyeurism) but doesn’t dig all that deep into its heroine’s psyche. If anything, it’s obvious that the paranoid and megalomaniacal Constance is in need of some major TLC — something she doesn’t get from an occasional lover (Benjamin Biolay), whose way of expressing his affection is to offer her a remote controlled vibrator.
Known stateside for her fiery role in Maiwenn’s cop drama Polisse, Fois initially became famous in France as a TV sketch-comedy actress, though she has shifted to darker territory in recent years. Here she offers up a mix of mild psychosis and outré black comedy, getting laughs out of scenes that are less funny than they are disturbing, while convincingly channeling Constance’s personal and professional obsessions.
All of that leads to a final act which takes things way past the plausibility point — I mean, is a job selling provincial real estate worth all that heartache, not to mention going to prison? — although at least one solid twist will catch viewers off-guard and further add to Constance’s litany of screwy behavior. Still, it’s tough to say what Marnier is going for in the end, if not a certain portrait of schizophrenic small-town misery, in a film whose stakes often seem too low given the high level of insanity.
Shot in colorful, naturally lit widescreen by Laurent Brunet (Microbe & Gasoline), Faultless shows Marnier — the author of three novels and a TV series — to be a capable director who’s not afraid to cross into genre territory, even at the expense of ridicule. A soundtrack from French electro duo Zombie Zombie is filled with nods to John Carpenter and Dario Argento, underscoring the movie’s artsy B-grade origins.
Production companies: Avenue B, Orange Studio
Cast: Marina Fois, Jeremie Elkaim, Josephine Japy, Benjamin Biolay
Director, screenwriter: Sebastien Marnier
Producer: Caroline Bonmarchand
Director of photography: Laurent Brunet
Production designer: Mathieu Menut
Costume designer: Marite Coutard
Editor: Laurence Bawedin
Composer: Zombie Zombie
Casting director: Nicolas Ronchi
Not rated, 103 minutes
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