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PARIS — Two years after bringing to the screen “By the Pricking of My Thumbs,” Pascal Thomas adapts another story by Agatha Christie, “Towards Zero” (“L’heure zero”).
Among fans of the British crime novelist, “Zero” is considered one of her greatest achievements. The impressive cast of the film — composed of a French classic actress (Danielle Darrieux), a renowned comedian (Francois Morel) and several young talents usually dedicated to auteur films (Laura Smet, Chiara Mastroianni, Melvil Poupaud), among others — added to a widespread taste for crime stories, should attract interested audiences in Europe and could open world sales to this witty and enjoyable movie.
The young Guillaume Neuville (Poupaud) has the strange idea to invite both his wife, the hot-blooded Caroline (Smet), and his ex-wife, the delicate and shy Aude (Mastroianni), to spend a summer in the seaside house of his aunt Camilla (Darrieux). Tension arises until the fatal moment of a terrible calculated murder.
Although Thomas and his co-writers moved the action from 1944 England to contemporary Brittany, France, the key idea to the story remains the same, as expressed by an old judge in the opening sequence: Crime stories are usually disappointing because they explain a murder that takes place at the beginning of the story (or even in some cases beforehand). The crime in “Zero”will be committed at the end, “zero” being the exact moment of the crime toward which all the characters are converging. This unique approach confers the film a melancholic tone that Thomas cleverly balances with humorous touches.
Darrieux, whose career has resumed after her 2002 comeback in Francois Ozon’s “8 Women,” is as imperial as ever as the old aunt who favors one of his nephew’s wives and despises the other. Poupaud has a lot of fun in playing a typical seducer, half delightful and half arrogant. Mastroianni is perfectly cast, with her diaphanous skin and her ethereal look, as the pure wife who was unfairly abandoned.
Morel, who had a huge success on French television and stage in the ’90s, has a subtle approach to the character of the detective solving the multiple enigmas of the story. Finally, Laura Smet gives her finest performance to date. She literally bursts on the screen every time she appears. As the eccentric and extraverted second wife, she talks, shouts, screams, dances and moves with an enchanting touch of madness.
Charming, intriguing and witty, “Towards Zero” is also a dark portrait of the human soul.
Les Films Francais/France 2 Cinema/StudioCanal
Director: Pascal Thomas
Screenwriters: Clemence de Bieville, Francois Caviglioli, Roland Duval, Nathalie Lafaurie
Based on the novel by: Agatha Christie
Producers: Nathalie Lafaurie, Hubert Watrinet, Bernadette Zinck
Director of photography: Renan Polles
Production designer: Katia Wyszkop
Costume designer: Catherine Bouchard
Editors: Catherine Dubeau, Marie De La Selle, Elena Mano
Music: Reinhardt Wagner
Commissaire Martin Bataille: Francois Morel
Camilla Tressilian: Danielle Darrieux
Guillaume Neuville: Melvil Poupaud
Caroline Neuville: Laura Smet
Aude Neuville: Chiara Mastroianni
Marie Adeline: Alessandra Martines
Thomas Rondeau: Clement Thomas
Running time — 107 minutes
No MPAA rating
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The Woman King