Berlin International Film Festival

PARIS -- Although "Guilty" involves a police investigator, a lawyer and two suspects in a murder, Laetitia Masson's film is a philosophical and psychological film rather than a mystery or action piece. Commercial prospects may be limited to art house theaters, though in France, where it opens February 27, auteur buffs will embrace the director's best film to date.

In the first half-hour, the characters are introduced while the philosopher Michel Onfray presents his vision of love and sex in voice-over -- a method reminiscent of Alain Resnais' "My American Uncle." The main character is a young woman, Marguerite (Helene Fillieres), a cook and maid at the house of Blanche (Anne Consigny) and her wealthy husband. When the husband is found stabbed to death, both Marguerite and Blanche are suspects in the eyes of Louis (Denis Podalydes), a detective, and Lucien (Jeremie Renier), a lawyer facing problems of his own with his wife, Dolores (Amira Casar). Lucien sees in this crime the perfect case to build up a real career, and he starts an odd relation with Marguerite. During the investigation, Louis observes their game surreptitiously. No one is innocent as each character is linked to another by a form of dependence. Everyone has a secret to hide, and the murder causes them all to confront their darker sides.

Masson's first films -- "To Have (or not)" and "For Sale" -- have shown her to be a genius in female psychology. "Guilty" confirms her skills in creating strong female characters. Marguerite and Blanche are in a way two sides of the same coin. The struggle between social classes adds dimension to their relationship, enhanced by Masson's clever use of locations and production design.

The five main actors give these figures a captivating complexity. Fillieres creates a fascinating Marguerite, clumsy when she moves, mysterious when she talks, disquieting when she smiles. Podalydes, often cast in comedies, reveals an intriguing nastier side as the unconventional detective who spies on others. Consigny is a true revelation as the model wife navigating between bliss and insanity. Renier, a regular in the Dardenne brothers' films, undertakes a proper physical transformation here as the shifty lawyer who neglects his wife, a character that would otherwise be superfluous except for a nice touch of madness Casar brings to the role.

Rezo Prods., Rhone Alpes Cinema
Writer-director: Laetitia Masson
Producers: Maurice Bernart, Jean-Michel Rey, Philippe Liegeois
Director of photography: Antoine Heberle
Production designer: Pascale Consigny
Costume designer: Carole Gerard
Editor: Ailo Auguste
Music: Jean-Louis Murat
Marguerite: Helene Fillieres
Lucien Lambert: Jeremie Renier
Louis Berger: Denis Podalydes
Blanche Kaplan: Anne Consigny
Dolores: Amira Casar
Paul Kaplan: Marc Barbe
Running time -- 107 minutes
No MPAA rating