December 13, 2002 -- "Read My Lips" (Sur mes lèvres) is an unorthodox little film noir organized crime story set in France (with English subtitles) that includes one of the strangest love stories you will ever see.
The hearing-impaired Carla Bhem (marvelously played by Emmanuelle Devos) has worked for three years as a secretary for a property development company, only to see her hard work undermined by office politics, her opportunities for advancement, stolen. One day, she has the opportunity to hire an assistant. She hires an ex-convict, Paul Angeli (Vincent Cassel) to whom she is attracted. Their association changes each of them forever. What starts out as a simple boss-employee relationship, gradually evolves into something much more complex and intimate. They also become emmeshed in organized crime.
Central to the movie's theme is Carla's hearing problems. She has the ability to read lips, which is central to one of the film's main story lines, but her hearing problems also make her isolated from other people. Ironically, even though she can't hear what is going on around her, she can see what people are saying about her across the room, when they think their conversations are private. This duality of hearing loss as a handicap and as an advantage is exploited endlessly through the film. In one scene, when Carla is babysitting, she takes out her hearing aids when the baby is crying. A lot of mothers would like to be able to shut off the crying sounds that easily. Carla at first appears small, helpless and shy. It turns out she is smart, assertive, able to think on her feet, and is courageous.
Paul is also a complex character. He seems at first to be a small-time hood who wants to go straight. Then he sees an opportunity for a heist and he immediately takes action. He is very uneasy about his relationship to Carla because he can't figure out what she wants. More than once, he misreads her signals. His job at the office takes on more than just running the fax and copy machines. He becomes Carla's enforcer at the office, her master of dirty tricks. But just when you think you've got the story figured out, it changes to a new direction. Sound effects and sound editing are used to good effect in the film to give the audience a feel for what it is like to be deaf. It is a very fluid story line with an organic feel to it, but it is easy to follow. The camera work had too many shaky hand-held shots for my taste. There was so much camera motion at times, the screen was hard to watch. Some of the edits were also a bit rough, jumping from one scene to a seemingly unrelated scene. Despite that, the story was so strong, and the acting so good, it held my interest all the way. This film rates a B.
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