The Page Turner

The Page Turner


Reviewed by: Paul Griffiths

Whilst not as nebulous or challengingly structured as Michael Haneke's widely acclaimed Hidden (Cache), Denis Dercourt's latest certainly draws favourable comparisons as another minimally cast film about French disturbance.

The strongest similarities lie in the themes of France's treatment of its youth class and of previous actions coming back to haunt one in later life, and then in the melding of these two together. Both Dercourt and Haneke suggest there is a growing divide between adults and youth and that taking responsibility, or not, for how one treats others, especially those youngsters, is weighing increasingly heavy on contemporary French sensibilities. Perhaps further afield, too.

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So it is here we witness the exceptionally talented piano player, ten-year-old Melanie, practising for and taking her prestigious conservatory entrance exam. However, when the head of the judging panel, the renowned concert pianist Ariane Fouchecourt (Catherine Frot), callously distracts Melanie during her impressive playing, her concentration and all chances of success are thrown. The sombre, quietly devastated Melanie returns home, locks up her piano and in a simple, resonant action, turns her back on ever playing again.

About a decade later Melanie (Deborah Francois) has grown into a naturally beautiful young woman, starting a job as an assistant at a law firm. As Melanie finds her feet, her self-confidence and calmness become steadily apparent and she in most ways seems a sweet-natured, likeable, alluringly pretty individual. Except in her eyes. There's a brilliantly portrayed glacial stillness, a deadness, in her wide, gorgeous eyes that's unnervingly at odds with her demeanour.

Melanie then takes up an opportunity to become a live-in au pair for one of the bosses, to help his wife look after their son, and in part to help him look after his rather emotionally frail wife. When it is revealed that he is, of course, Monsieur Fouchecourt and is married to the formerly renowned Ariane, the building undercurrent of perturbation grows further. You realise despite her sweetness and light, the deadness in Melanie's eyes has been there for some ten years and she may be working toward a grander, vengeful scheme.

Melanie wins the trust of the now stage fright-stricken Ariane, becoming her coveted music page turner. Sitting with her at the piano Ariane begins to rely on Melanie to regain her confidence and career, all the while oblivious as to who Melanie really is.

Just as Melanie glides softly through the family, Dercourt expertly uses slowly creeping, revealing and encroaching cameras to thoroughly invoke an ambiance of menace and trepidation. There's latent threat and malice imbuing many of his stylishly but understatedly shot scenes. It makes for a subtly captivating viewing experience, aided by an economic script that is sparse, believable and admirably rid of any hint of numbskull Fatal Attraction-type histrionics. Everything said matters, especially as there are times when nothing is said at all.

During such episodes the excellent score by Jerome Lemonnier brings a language and text to the piece itself. His singular, haunting and remarkable piano powerfully, thrillingly works with and accentuates the story and will reinvent the instrument for dulled ears. Few mainstream films have a score that so closely combines with the visuals to create the emotions and themes of the piece. As with the script, every note counts. The effectiveness of this highlights Dercourt's own classical music background as well as his filmmaking skills.

Both Catherine Frot and Deborah Francois deliver excellent performances, and as they begin to share many frames together the tension between the two visibly crackles. Frot has years of experience that she brings to bear adroitly on the splintered Ariane, evoking sympathy as Melanie's fracturing takes hold. Francois may be relatively fresh on the scene but her previous work as the new mother Sonia in last year's L'Enfant (The Child) marked her out as one to watch. Her Melanie is another great example of her obvious talent, though markedly different in its still poise and beautiful evil.

Although not truly great, this is quality cinema for those looking for a quietly disturbing drama that does not insult its audience's intelligence nor pander to easy expectations.

Reviewed on: 29 Sep 2006
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A concert pianist's past returns to unravel her present.
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Director: Denis Dercourt

Writer: Denis Dercourt, Jacques Sotty

Starring: Catherine Frot, Deborah Francois, Pascal Greggory, Xavier De Guillebon, Christine Citti, Clotilde Mollet

Year: 2006

Runtime: 85 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: France

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