July 25-31, 2002
Falling on Deaf Ears
READ MY LIPS
READ MY LIPS Directed by Jacques Audiard A Magnolia Pictures release Opens Friday at Ritz Bourse
Because it features a relationship between a hearing-impaired woman and a hearing man, Jacques Audiard’s Read My Lips (Sur Mes Lèvres) has drawn comparison with Neil LaBute’s In the Company of Men, the obvious difference being that Audiard doesn’t detest his characters and himself. Neither Carla (Emmanuelle Devos) nor Paul (Vincent Cassel) is a particularly admirable type -- sullen and manipulative both, they make for an unloveable pair. But if Audiard doesn’t love them, exactly, he pays them the greater tribute of depicting them with even-handed reserve. Carla is
a put-upon corporate secretary whose hopes of moving up are constantly frustrated by a male-dominated corporate culture; in the cafeteria, she can lip-read the derisive comments of the men who steal away her opportunities. Paul is an ex-convict without much desire to reform, though he’s put in his bid for a straight job just to keep his parole officer off his back. When he shows up at Carla’s office looking for a job, his hair almost comically filthy, his tie slung at half-mast, she has no reason to believe him when he says he’s computer literate and knows how to collate. But she takes him on anyway, less out of a desire to help than to have someone over whom she can, at last, exert power.
It's hardly that simple, though. She blackmails Paul into stealing critical files from a co-worker who's stolen her place in the queue, but in return, he muscles her into helping him get back at a loan shark who's out to collect some pre-penal obligations. It's at this point that Read My Lips starts to morph into a semi-conventional thriller, but you can't root for the characters the way you normally would. The greasy small-time gangster certainly deserves the comeuppance the two begin to plan for him, which involves a heist he's planning with some decidedly heavier characters, but you don't exactly want Paul and Carla to Citro‘n off into the sunset. Audiard doesn't let them off scot-free, either: Their plan comes with heavy consequences, and you start to reconsider whatever tenuous sympathies you might have formed.
The trouble with Read My Lips is that it's all subversion; you lose sight of what it is it's supposed to be subverting. Audiard has no more than a cursory interest in indulging genre pleasures, but he's not free enough of them to break out on his own. You may feel like you've missed something, no matter how closely you pay attention.