Love Is the Perfect Crime (L'Amour est un crime parfait): Toronto Review

Love is the Perfect Crime - H 2013

Love is the Perfect Crime - H 2013

A well-acted mystery that's less about psychology than the unraveling of the plot.

The latest film from the French Larrieu brothers, a glacial adaptation of a Philippe Djian novel, stars Mathieu Amalric, Karin Viard, Sara Forestier and Maiwenn.

TORONTO -- A lustful university professor in Switzerland beds the stepmother of a gorgeous student that mysteriously disappeared in Love is the Perfect Crime (L’Amour est un crime parfait), an appropriately chilly adaptation of a Philippe Djian mystery novel from French brothers Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu.

Again reuniting with Mathieu Amalric (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Quantum of Solace), who previously starred in the siblings’ Happy End and A Man, a Real One, the Larrieus here spin a genre yarn that’s all reflective surfaces and little depth, though it’s not an inch less enjoyable for it. With Djian’s reputation -- he also wrote the novels that inspired Betty Blue and André Téchiné’s recent Unforgivable -- and a name cast that also includes Sara Forestier (The Names of Love) and Polisse actresses Karin Viard and Maiwenn, this January 2014 release could score decently at home, though its twisted genre trappings might be more of a hindrance than a help in scoring theatrical bookings abroad. However, festivals, including Toronto and San Sebastian, will pick up some of the slack.

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The film kicks off with creative writing professor Marc (Amalric) driving a pretty student, Barbara (Marion Duval), to his chalet at night for some fun between the sheets. The next morning, she’s gone and Marc returns to work, where he learns from Barbara’s thirtysomething step mom, Anna (Maiwenn), that the girl has gone missing. It’s all extremely hard to take for Anna, who’s husband, a soldier, has also gone missing abroad.

Marc’s told off by his goody-goody head of department, Richard (the always reliable Denis Podalydes) that he shouldn’t talk to Anna because it’ll start nasty rumors, especially since Marc’s got a reputation as a ladies’ man already. The fact Richard’s clearly smitten with university librarian Marianne (Viard), who’s Marc’s sister and lives with him, does nothing to ease their difficult rapport, especially after it becomes clear that Marianne and Marc are a lot closer than most siblings.  

The film is structured like a mystery that, for once, isn’t tightly plotted but instead just loose enough for audiences to start being distrustful of the right people and start scrutinizing their before seeing their suspicions confirmed. The Larrieus can only get away with this because their actors are so good and audiences will stick with them to see where things go even after it’s become clear who is guilty of what.

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Almaric cleverly underplays the playboy side of his character, suggesting there’s something mysterious about him that attracts practically all women -- including his sister -- but that it’s not something he has control over. Though typecast, Forestier delivers strong work as a randy student with an important father who simply wants to get into Marc’s pants, while Maiwenn and Viard also impress in more ambiguous supporting roles. Though there’s a touch of Chabrol and Patricia Highsmith at work here, the film’s finally less about psychology than the unraveling of the plot, which has its own pleasures.

Production design by Stephane Levy is exemplary, contrasting the sinuous curves and transparent glass-and-steel structure of the university with the blocky wooden chalet Marc and Marianne call home, clearly separating the workplace from the characters’ private sphere. The cinematography of Guillaume Deffontaines further helps underline this and also drinks in the snow-covered exteriors, which at once suggests a pristine environment but also the possibility that tracks have been covered. The electronic score by Caravaggio adds a welcome contemporary edge.

Venue: Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentations)
Production companies: Arena Productions, Gaumont, Vega Film, Entre Chien et Loup, Mollywood
Cast: Mathieu Almaric, Karin Viard, Sara Forestier, Maiwenn, Denis Podalydes, Xavier Beauvois, Marion Duval
Writer-Directors: Arnaud Larrieu, Jean-Marie Larrieu, screenplay based on the novel
Incidences by Philippe Djian
Producers: Bruno Pesery, Francis Boespflug
Director of photography: Guillaume Deffontaines
Production designer: Stephane Levy
Music: Caravaggio
Costume designer: Judith de Luze
Editor: Annette Dutertre
Sales: Gaumont
No rating, 111 minutes