To the self-serving lexicon of corporate slogans — “Think outside the box,” “There is no ‘I’ in ‘team'” — the enjoyable cat-and-mouse drama “Love Crime” adds a new entry. This one gives a truer taste of the me-first, brown-nosing ethic found in corporate culture: “Want it, and watch out.”
What French executive Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas) and her ambitious underling Isabelle (Ludivine Sagnier) both want is advancement — preferably to the stateside office of the high-octane company they work for. They also both want, and get, playboy colleague Philippe (Patrick Mille) in their (separate) beds. And what they have to watch out for — as they climb ruthlessly toward that glass ceiling, hammers in hand — is each other.
The movie starts with a semi-Sapphic shiver, as Christine gets a little too nuzzly with Isabelle as they work late on a project in Christine’s living room. But anyone hoping for some Gallic gal-on-gal shenanigans — or the casual nudity that helped propel Sagnier to stardom in the 2003 film “Swimming Pool” — should tame their expectations. These ladies spend most of their time buttoned up in business suits with lapels sharp enough to slash a vein.
Directed by Alain Corneau (who made 1991’s “Tous les Matins du Monde,” the best movie ever about viola da gamba players), “Love Crime” doesn’t have anything especially insightful to say about women in the working world or the state of sexism in the homeland of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. For the most part, all the bad behavior (and objectification of the opposite sex) is instigated by the women.
Once typecast as a chilly Anglo princess (despite her film debut as the leading lady opposite, of all people, itty-bitty rock star Prince), Scott Thomas has enjoyed a hot run onscreen in recent years. That’s thanks in part to being bilingual and living in France. She’s ranged from sharp supporting turns in fantastic films such as “Tell No One” to fantastic lead roles in so-so stuff like “I’ve Loved You So Long.” “Love Crime” lets her unleash her inner, absolute bitch. Her Christine is appalling in a can’t-take-your-eyes-off-her way.
If Scott Thomas always seems to be one beat ahead of everyone else in the room, Sagnier can feel a half-beat behind. Her acting choices lack the surprise and unpredictability of the older actress’. She’s not bad, exactly, and her unique mix of porcelain delicacy and fleshy amplitude is always easy on the eye. There’s just an imbalance between the two leads.
Halfway through, “Love Crime” switches from one sort of movie to another genre entirely. It would be too big a spoiler to say much more than that. To put it vaguely, the movie’s tone shifts from emotionally volatile to something chillier — diagrammatic, yet enjoyable on its own terms. But, yes, it loses a little lifeblood in its final hour. Still, it’s a satisfying diversion. After all, the French know how to transform little more than dairy products, air and the right oven temperature into a soufflé … perhaps served with a postprandial glass of ambition steeped in bitters.
“Love Crime.” With Ludivine Sagnier, Kristin Scott Thomas. Directed by Alain Corneau. In French and English, with subtitles. 106 minutes. Unrated. At Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.