The Page Turner

2006, Movie, NR, 85 mins


Writer-director Denis Dercourt's perfectly pitched and paced thriller is a quietly harrowing tale of psychological manipulation, festering resentment and coldhearted revenge.

Young Melanie Prouvost (Julie Richalet) is a precociously self-possessed and disconcertingly determined aspiring pianist who's been rigorously preparing for her conservatory exam. Her proud father (Jacques Bonnaffe) assures Melanie he'll continue to pay for lessons if she isn't accepted, but as far as Melanie is concerned, failure isn't an option and there's no compromise when it comes to perfection. Alone in the room with the judges, Melanie begins to play and every note is perfect — until one judge, celebrated pianist Ariane Fouchecourt (Catherine Frot), thoughtlessly agrees to sign an autograph for a fan. The distraction breaks Melanie's concentration, and the rest of the recital is a disaster. With tears streaming down her face, Melanie silently confronts Ariane, then returns home to quietly pack away her sheet music, her small bust of Beethoven and her dreams of a music career. Years pass and Melanie, now a pretty high-school graduate (Deborah Francois), takes an internship at a prestigious Paris law firm. When she hears that her boss, M. Fouchecourt (Pascal Greggory), needs someone to look after his son (Antoine Martynciow) for the next few weeks while he's away on business, quiet, efficient Melanie volunteers to move temporarily into the stately Fouchecourt home outside of Paris. Madame Fouchecourt, of course, turns out to be none other than the woman who so carelessly destroyed Melanie's life, but Ariane clearly doesn't remember the incident, nor does she seem to be the diva she once was. Two years earlier, Ariane was involved in a hit-and-run accident that left her composure and confidence badly shaken; she's now prone to stage fright and panic attacks that have damaged her reputation. Ariane is depending on an upcoming live radio broadcast with her chamber trio to boost her sagging career, but she needs a page-turner on whom she can rely to get her through the ordeal. When cool, calm and collected Melanie says she can read music, Ariane is ecstatic and puts her to work, even though something about Melanie's mere presence puts the trio's violinist, Virginie (Clotilde Mollet), on edge. Ariane soon comes to depend on Melanie's calming influence, and it's this dependency, as well as her carefully applied erotic allure, that the ever-patient Melanie will exploit when the time is right.

Dercourt, a professional violist himself, clearly understands the obsessive personality that often lies behind the profession's facade of great musicians who must compete in a field where nothing but perfection will do. But he also has a great raconteur's instinct for the details that actually tell the story, like Melanie's deceptively neutral wardrobe or the fact that her youthful self saved the box in which her Beethoven bust came just in case things don't go as perfectly as they must. Like a chilling leitmotif, that bust will make a quiet but memorably creepy reappearance later in the film, and it isn't going too far to suggest that the film flows like a sinister and unsettling piece of music, from gripping overture to the tightly orchestrated movements to the unforgettable coda. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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