Read My Lips
2002, NR, 118 min. Directed by Jacques Audiard. Starring Emmanuelle Devos, Vincent Cassel.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 6, 2002
No, Read My Lips is not a biography of Bush the Senior and his utterance of those famous words. However, in the long run, it may prove more practical to describe what Read My Lips is not, rather than what it is, for to describe the movie in too much detail will spoil the ride. Like the implications of its English title, this new French film depends on viewers looking beyond the usual sources of meaning and action, and focusing on alternative signs and clues for narrative significance. The movie never fully spells out its objectives, but as the viewer becomes attuned to the movie's ways, it gradually becomes easier to know where to look and how to listen. Read My Lips is a love story about the unconventional relationship between plain-looking office worker Carla (Devos) and Paul (Cassel), the underqualified ex-con whom she hires as her assistant. Hold on; that's not quite right. That's only part of the story. Read My Lips is a startling new thriller in which a mousy but frustrated office worker and an unrepentant thief pull off a heist that depends in equal measures on quick thinking and creative choreography. No, that's not really it either. Last try: Read My Lips is a psychological drama about two inadequate souls who find completion in each other, in the unique skills each brings to the relationship. The variety of methods with which to describe Read My Lips are numerous -- especially given that, at first glance, the movie seems like it might turn out to be a French feminist twist on In the Company of Men. Once again, the movie's not that either, even though Carla is a partially deaf secretary whose fellow workers take advantage of her -- that is, when they pay any attention to her at all. Carla wears hearing aids in both ears and dresses in bland, formless clothing that accentuates her ordinary appearance (facially, she's like some kind of combination of Kathy Baker and Laurie Metcalf). At the office, Carla is a good worker, although if one looks carefully, the seething resentment growing inside her can be seen. When she is allowed to hire an assistant, the job description she puts in at the employment agency sounds more like her requirements for a boyfriend than a secretarial assistant. She hires Paul, despite his complete lack of secretarial skills and prison background. She also finds him a place to live and covers for him once when his parole officer comes looking for him. Then, she makes use of his thievery talents when she directs Paul to steal the car of one of her office adversaries. Carla and Paul share feelings of marginality and silent rage, Carla's sensitivity complementing Paul's streetwise knowledge. Ultimately, they pull a heist together that makes use of their unique skills. Technically, Read My Lips is exciting to watch: The audio disruptions of Carla putting in or taking out her hearing aids and the inventiveness of the way the heist plot is revealed are just a couple of the film's treats. This is only Audiard's third film, but it should put him in the top ranks of international filmmakers. Read My Lips has a few digressive interludes (the parole officer's personal story seems particularly tangential), but it's nevertheless a movie that should trip forth lightly from viewers' tongues.