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As a secretary, Carla Behm (Emmanuelle Devos - Winner "Best Actress" 2002 Cesar Awards) is overqualified despite a disability that forces her to wear hearing aids in both ears. Still, her coworkers ridicule her daily for her plain looks, all the while taking credit for her best work. She's on theverge of cracking until she gets permission to hire an assistant. Enter Paul Angeli (Vincent Cassel - Crimsons Rivers, Birthday Girl). He's a suave, light-fingered ex-con unqualified for the simplest of tasks. However, when it comes time to steal a file a co-worker has pilfered from Carla's desk, Paul has all the skills that Carla requires. Soon he discovers Carla's uncanny ability to read lips, and their relationship becomes a seductive tango as Paul enlists Carla in a revenge plot againsta crooked loan shark. A masterfully crafted romantic thriller in the Hitchcock tradition, READ MY LIPS won Best Screenplay at the 2002 Cesar Awards. See what Lisa Schwarzbaum (Entertainment Weekly)cal
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Workplace dramas seem to have become a French specialty, and Jacques Audiard's Read My Lips ("Sur mes levres") proves a worthy follow-up to such notable predecessors in the genre as Human Resources and Time Out ("L'Emploi du temps"). The film also nods towards Neil LaBute's In the Company of Men and Hitchcock's Rear Window, but it's none the worse for that. Carla, our anti-heroine (Emmanuelle Devos), is an ugly duckling working as a secretary for a construction company in suburban Paris. Dowdy and all-but deaf, she's exploited and put upon by her male coworkers. When her boss lets her hire an assistant she bizarrely chooses Paul (Vincent Cassel), a scruffy and none-too-bright ex-con. But an odd symbiosis grows up between this pair of losers; the combination of his petty-criminal skills and her lip-reading abilities has certain potentials.
As A Self-Made Hero, his previous movie, showed, Audiard doesn't go in for lovable characters. Carla is no long-suffering saint and Paul is frankly sleazy, but this just makes their interaction all the more intriguing. Devos, glowering malevolently beneath her dark brows, and Cassel with his greasy hair and ratty moustache, turn in relishably truculent and un-starry performances, and Audiard deftly manages the transition from office comedy to gangland heist thriller with no grinding of gears. By the end the plot starts to strain belief, but it scarcely matters. The noir-ish lighting and potent use of hand-held close-ups enhance the film's sense of nervous unease, and there's ingenious use of sound to convey Carla's hearing-impaired world. Downbeat and unblinkingly amoral, Read My Lips offers pleasures that a glossier treatment would have missed entirely. --Philip Kemp
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