Read My Lips Review
Clara (Emmanuelle Devos) is a hearing-impaired secretary in a property development company. She is generally harassed by her co-workers and given little credit for the work she does. When the pressure of work gets too much, her boss allows her to employ an assistant. Clara lives alone and while she is not exactly timid, she suffers from a lack of self-confidence, particularly when faced with the opposite sex. She hopes to recruit someone who might be attracted to her, but ends up with Paul Angeli (Vincent Cassel), an ex-con just released from prison. With Paul’s help and criminal talents, Clara manages to settle a few scores in the workplace. Paul however has old debts outstanding and has to work them off at a nightclub owned by a small-time criminal, Marchand. He realises that he can find a use for Clara’s lip-reading talents to find out about a scheme that Marchand is planning – but the situation gets dangerous, throwing both Clara and Paul into serious trouble.
Emmanuelle Devos is excellent in a role that won her the Best Actress award in the 2002 Césars, the French equivalent of the Oscars. As a young woman who is partially deaf, she can read other people’s lips and find out things they believe are being spoken in secret. This is not just a clever plot device - the consequences of this skill and knowledge are fully explored - her character showing the nervous paranoia that you would surely feel when you really do know what everyone else is saying about you in private. Vincent Cassel also turns in another fascinating and convincing performance, his character exuding all the menace and vulnerability of an ex-con without the film having to delve back into his past-history – it is all written in every swagger, gesture and word he speaks.
While working within the genre, director Audiard also manages to turn around certain conventions and the inevitable compromise that we come to expect from similar Hollywood thrillers. The film retains a credible storyline with credible characters and realistic violence for the situation – the film is not cheapened with out-of-character behaviour or extreme violence. Relentless close-ups in enclosed spaces give the film an intense, claustrophobic feel, the hand-held camera drawing the viewer into inhabiting the same locations as the characters. This is a terrific film – a taut thriller, skilfully assembled with fine performances from an exceptional cast.
There are no problems with the picture quality. Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic, it is always sharp and crystal clear. I really can’t find any fault with it. Colours are muted and there are very few outdoor daylight scenes. With a high percentage of the film shot in tight close-up in dark enclosed spaces, there is plenty of room for error, but the film is expertly lit and every detail and nuance is clearly visible and effectively transferred.
The soundtrack, presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, is marvellous - it’s inventive, enveloping and atmospheric. In the same way that the images work to draw you in, the sound design works to enclose you in the cramped spaces of the films setting, providing an ambience for the unlikeliest of locations, a photocopying room, a closet or an apartment under construction. The soundtrack is never overstated, but operates effectively without your awareness of just how clever and manipulative it is. Similarly, Alexandre Desplat’s subtle insistent music underscores the edginess of the situation and Carla’s discomfort and unease throughout the film to great effect.
English subtitles are provided and while they are not removable on most players, they are machine generated and are clear and readable. The translation is good, effectively translating cultural references, slang, humour and linguistic mannerisms to be meaningful to an English-speaking audience.
For this UK Region 2 release Pathé simply haven’t been bothered to transfer or translate the superb extras on their French DVD release which includes a Cast commentary, a Director's commentary, 6 Deleted scenes, Interviews and a Photo gallery. All we have here on the UK release is a trailer. Although the extras on the French R2 are French only, it has a subtitled feature and is clearly a better deal than this UK release. Very disappointing.
This is an excellent film which has been given a great presentation on DVD with the picture and sound quality that the film really needs to work effectively. The lack of extra material must be seen as a major disappointment however, especially considering the wealth of features that Pathé included on the French release. As knowledge of superior alternative editions and ease of internet purchase increases I would be surprised if people continue to buy more expensive and clearly inferior UK releases for much longer.