Saturday, November 04, 2006


THE PAGE TURNER is not a film of bloated ambitions - there are no pretensions to change our political views, the future of cinema or the world. Maybe because of this it feels like a cool refreshing glass of water after the rich food of the London Film Festival. For here we have a movie that is just 85 minutes long, contains no pyrotechnics or melodrama, and yet holds your attention and imagination throughout. The premise is simple but executed with an austerity and perfection that is arresting.

In the prelude, a severe imperious young girl called Mélanie Prouvost is practising for a piano exam. These scenes are intercut with the hanging carcasses of pigs and cows - a vogue in current cinema it seems. It transpires her parents are butchers. The tight-lipped intensity of Mélanie is brilliantly portrayed by the young actress and accomplished pianist, Julie Richalet. Mélanie begins her exam well, but catches the guest examiner - a famous concert pianist - discourteously signing an autograph for an acolyte. This breaks the young girl's attention and she fails the exam. In a telling scene, she deos not burst into tears or recrimination - she simply leaves the room with a tear on her cheek and slams a piano lid down almost trapping the fingers of another entrant.

Years later and Mélanie is a grown woman, now played by Déborah François (last seen in L'ENFANT). She no longer plays the piano but remains austere - speaking little, revealing less - an apparently impassive beautiful woman who wears perfectly correct yet unbecoming clothes. She is hired by a rich Parisien lawyer to be an au pair for his son Tristan and stay with them and his wife Ariane at their palatial country estate. Mélanie is confronted by her nemesis - the wife is also the discourteous concert pianist - brought low by a car crash and suffering from stage fright.

The plot now unravels in the manner often seen in cinema. The young girl makes herself trusted and irreplacable - maneouvring herself into a position of power without seeming to do anything. We have seen variations on this theme from ALL ABOUT EVE onwards. What makes THE PAGE TURNER special is the economy with which the plot unfolds - the perfect harmony between actors, set design and score - and the sinister ambiguity of the piece. It is never entirely clear at what point Mélanie begins to manipulate - at what point she becomes an active agent of Ariane's downfall. Watching the movie, I thought it began rather late - after the first concert, when she sees another autograph hunter - but looking back I realise it may have started much earlier....I also love the moral ambiguity of the piece. As we watch the family interact we realise that they are perfectly harmless. Pascal Gregory - perhaps best known to English speaking viewers as Anjou in LA REINE MARGOT - plays Jean Fouchécourt as a wonderfully supportive, if slightly clueless corporate husband. And Catherine Frot gives a marvelously nuanced performance. Her Ariane is certainly self-involved but ultimately well-meaning and incredibly vulnerable. These are not monsters who deserve to see their world crumble and yet there is a certain thrill in seeing THE PAGE TURNER'S plan being perfectly executed....

THE PAGE TURNER/LAS TOURNEUSE DE PAGES played Cannes 2006. It opened in France and Belgium this summer and is currently on release in the UK. It opens in Israel and the Netherlands later this month and in Finland on December 1st.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this one too. Excellent little movie.