Continuing our modest run of French thrillers – this time out it is the 2001 release Read My Lips. While not a simple two character film, Read My Lips concentrates our attention on Emmanuelle Devos as a Parisian secretary at a firm that bids for land development/apartment complex construction jobs. Her name is Carla. She’s in her early mid thirties. She’s somewhere between plain and attractive but neither description will work as a stand-alone.
She’s also deaf, or more accurately, near deaf, and she wears a hearing aid in each ear. Carla puts her all into her job – she’s the first one in, and the last one to leave on a regular basis. She’s also relegated to the background at the office. People leave their coffee cups on her desk as if her space was a part of the canteen. Sales people use her cost analysis and job projections as if they had made these reports themselves, then deny her either credit or a share of the commission. She’s a) stuck in a dead-end job – no promotions or raises come her way, and b) she has no social life.
Carla is actually a dream role for an actress because on the surface she has nothing going for her. She’s set up to be a mousey, uninteresting office drone. But below the surface, she’s cunning, intelligent, and is ready and willing to not only use people to her advantage, but she’ll go so far as to even exploit them. This is not a sinister woman to be feared. Instead think of her as a woman who is much more than she appears to be. This film was released in 2001, and Ms Devos won the Cesar Award (the French Oscar) for her performance in this film.
As I said, she’s got virtually no social life. She has no boyfriend or lover either. She takes on baby-sitting jobs for her girl friends, and then listens intently as these women relate their own sexual experiences to her.
After a salesman at the company took her reports then denied her credit, she was at a near breaking point. In fact she does faint in the office. Her boss, the only one in the film who is sympathetic to her asks if she could use some help. She immediately goes defensive and says that she’s not in need of counseling. But I didn’t mean it like that, says the boss. I meant, could you make use of an assistant?
Enter Vincent Cassel as Paul Angeli. He’s 25, has just been released from prison, and has no office skills at all. He’s also homeless, and has what appears to be just one shirt, one pair of trousers, and one necktie. But he’s clueless about fax machines, copy machines, computers etc. He’s the last person on the planet that one would hire for this job.
After interviewing him at a restaurant where they’ve gone for lunch, she’s a bit repulsed, but after a moment’s consideration, and after she thinks about it, Carla hires him.