Dir: Laetitia Masson. France , 2007. 107 mins.
There is no better way to kill off a thriller than to leave the audience completely indifferent to its characters. In Guilty (Coupable), Laetitia Masson has written herself all the elements of a classic noir: a murder, two suspects, a plain-clothes policeman and a lawyer, alongside a few red herrings for some fun, but she has unfortunately decided against any kind of narrative that might generate viewer empathy.
Told almost entirely in close ups, with an overload of soliloquies which involve the characters covering the same ground over and over again, this is the kind of film which will only appeal to film buffs.
Larger audiences will find the convoluted plot offputting, and its future outside France seems shaky indeed. Even further festival exposure is unlikely.
The basic plot is simple enough: wealthy Paul Kaplan (Barbe) is found with a knife in his back. His mysteriously pious wife, Blanche (Consigny) and their chef Marguerite (Filieres), are suspects. Young lawyer Lucien (Renier) offers to handle Blanche's defence, while cop Louis (Podalydes) watches the characters from the shadows, determined to find the truth.
Masson opts not to play it simple, however, and her presentation of the investigation is nothing short of irregular.
Each character's personal problems are delved into in depth, in close up, in quite a rambling fashion, with no sense of direction until the solution magically pops up at the end.
A pre-credits scene waxing philosophical on the nature of love opens proceedings, and the audience is quickly introduced to Mr. Kaplan, an obnoxious person who definitely deserves the knife he has sticking out of his back.
His long-suffering wife Blanche has retreated into religion for comfort - or so she pretends - while chef Marguerite still lives with her doting parents even though she is 34 and desperate to get married. Handsome young lawyer Lucien, meanwhile, doesn't really get along with his wife and is ripe for an affair.
It would take a devoted member of the audience indeed to unravel Masson's intentions as she jumps from one character to another - always in close-up and never at a distance - and engages in hide-and-seek games around the victim's luxurious flat.
Antoine Heberle's camerawork handles with equal ease highly-sophisticated framings and grainy intimate close-ups. As for the actors, whether it is Renier's tormented lawyer seeking the truth and finding l'amour fou, Amira Casar as his neglected wife, or even Helene Filieres' quirky character, they all seem so terribly immersed, each one in their own role, that sympathizing with them would be almost an invasion of privacy.
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Director of photography