The Page Turner Review

Revenge is a dish best served cold… Hell hath no fury… there’s no mistaking the dangerous path Denis Dercourt’s Hitchcockian thriller La Tourneuse de Pages is going to take the moment a young girl, Mélanie shoots a murderous look at her music examiner, a renowned concert pianist, who has interrupted her recital to sign an autograph. Her concentration broken, her confidence shattered, her potential future as a musician vanishing before her eyes, there’s only going to be one thought in the girl’s mind when their paths fortuitously cross many years later – revenge.

Fortuitously? There’s nothing either propitious or opportune about Mélanie’s reencounter. Coming to the end of her internship as an assistant for a law firm, the young woman (Déborah François) offers her services to a wealthy and eminent lawyer, Jean Fouchécourt (Pascal Greggory), who is in need of a baby-sitter to help out his wife while he is away on business. His wife, we are perhaps not too surprised to discover, is none other than Ariane (Catherine Frot), the woman who destroyed Mélanie’s hopes for a career as a musician.

Many years after the event that set Mélanie off on her cold and calculated mission to destroy her, Ariane is now already an almost broken woman, a car crash accident leaving her lacking her former ability and confidence as a concert pianist. Attempting to rebuild her career with as part of trio, she finds that her young baby-sitter’s cool demeanour has a calming influence over her playing when she takes over the role of page-turner beside her at the piano. With the trio about to make their first important performance for a national radio program, the circumstances would appear to be quite apt and appropriate for Mélanie to exact pay-back on the vulnerable Ariane. Mélanie however, has something much more malicious in mind.

While the outcome – revenge - is never in doubt in this genre, the means by which it is achieved is evidently the standard by which any good suspense thriller is measured. The French, it has to be said, with directors like Claude Chabrol and Dominik Moll, are particularly adept at playing out such a situation not only with a certain sang froid, but with a certain ambiguity about which side the viewer should sympathise or identify with. Who is the victim and who is the real villain of the piece? This kind of ambiguity is sustained throughout to such an extent that the viewer can’t be certain of anything. It is clearly not just chance that has brought Mélanie back into contact with Ariane, but how much has been engineered and how much is opportunistic is never clearly defined and consequently left to the viewer to speculate on. Is it possible that Mélanie assiduously studied law for years just to be able to manoeuvre her way into this particular internship for Jean Fouchécourt? And what was that about a hit-and-run car accident that broke Ariane’s career? Literally nothing is made of either incident, but it is devilishly entertaining to consider the lengths that Mélanie could have been capable of going to in order to bring about her revenge.

Director Dercourt matches the cool calculation of the page-turner blow for blow. A trained musician himself, every scene controlled, meticulously paced and framed with classical precision, building up a tension that is both sinister and thrilling, the viewer taking a perverse pleasure at how neatly the pieces start falling into place, while feeling no small amount of foreboding as to their eventual outcome. No matter how well planned-out the scenario is however, the film ultimately relies on the performances to make it work. Just as Chabrol can rely on the calm understatement of Isabelle Huppert to downplay the inevitable melodrama of a suspense thriller, there is tremendous interplay and reversal of types between the methodical calculation of Déborah François’s Mélanie, the daughter of a butcher, and the vulnerability of Catherine Frot’s Ariane, the successful musician and wife of a wealthy lawyer. If the measured pace of the unfolding tension is perhaps too calculated, it’s an unexpected spark that the leading actresses bring to their on-screen relationship that lifts the film out of its potentially mechanical progress and pushes it towards a much more devastating outcome.

The Page Turner is released in the UK by Artificial Eye. The DVD is in PAL format and is encoded for Region 2.

The film aims for a precise look and feel of cool tones in its muted palette and this is faithfully brought across on the DVD transfer. Clarity is excellent and detail is good without it being too clinical and over-rendered. The stability is good, with only a few minor fluctuations that will most likely pass unnoticed by most viewers.

The film comes with a choice of Dolby Digital 2.0 and Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes. Both mixes work extremely well, capturing the clinical tone of the film with just the right edge of reverb to match the surroundings and the situation. It’s equally fine with both dialogue and the vital tones of the music used throughout the film.

English subtitles are provided in a perfectly clear white font and translate the film well, capturing the nuances of the dialogue.

Artificial Eye provide a full set of extra features for the film.

The anamorphic English Trailer (1:32) captures the elegant tone of the film and admirably, for such a short, intense film, it keeps it short and spoiler free. The French Trailer (1:30) however, plays up the revenge element and makes the film seem rather Psycho.

Filmographies are included for Denis Dercourt, Déborah François and Catherine Frot. The Page Turner is only Déborah François’ second film, having made her impressive debut in the Dardenne Brother’s L’Enfant.

The Making Of (38:14) reveals that Dercourt is a trained musician himself. He talks about making music and cinema work together in terms of rhythm, pacing, counterpoint and tension, putting it together into a coherent piece, but finding a balance between control and inspiration. There are brief interviews also with Frot and François, and discussion of the casting for the film, but the majority of the feature is made up of behind-the-scenes footage of rehearsals and filming.

These subjects are expanded on further – perhaps further than necessary – in a very long Interview with Denis Dercourt and Déborah François (55:23). The director, speaking fluently in English, makes some intelligent and relevant points, particularly about how the film, although genre, is still a piece of personal filmmaking that comes from within. Nonetheless, this is really much too long and certainly not necessary to be able to appreciate the film.

A cold, calculating revenge thriller is given a measured, mechanical delivery very much in a French style, but the understatement in the performances and delivery – never over-explaining or over-emphasising – keeps the viewer gripped throughout The Page Turner. Even on a repeat viewing, with the outcome already known, the film has rewatch value for the delight with which one can see the brilliant precision with which the sequence of events unfold. Artificial Eye’s DVD release is close to perfect, capturing the fine, cool tones of the film in an excellent transfer, and even giving us more extra features than we really need.

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