Carla the frumpy secretary and Paul the harsh parolee have little in common, which in many films would result in an opposites-attract romance. Refreshingly, “Read My Lips” keeps that possibility in the distance, though each party certainly entertains notions of it. The focus instead is on how they can help (and use) each other to get what they want.
Director Jacques Audiard (co-writing with Tonino Benacquista) has created a unique film, if not an entirely successful one. Carla (Emmanuelle Devos) is mostly deaf but can read lips, a skill that comes in handy as she and her ruffian secretarial assistant Paul (Vincent Cassel) set out to clear Paul of some old debts via making a heist.
Their relationship is the film’s focus. Carla, mousy and harried and unappreciated at the office, has rage seething beneath her surface. With Paul, the rage is out in the open, but he has goodness within him. They are able to draw on each other’s strengths and vices to strengthen their own positions, all while resisting the impulses that would seem to draw them together romantically. Watch Carla wear one of Paul’s blood-stained shirts in the privacy of her bedroom and see how deep the emotions run.
The acting is outstanding, as is Audiard’s smooth direction, particularly in moments from Carla’s point-of-view. Where the film is not as stellar is in the pace, which is sometimes intolerably slow, and in a subplot concerning Paul’s parole officer, which takes up space but adds up to nothing.
Yet taken as a whole, “Read My Lips” is an engaging, erotic — though sexless — thriller, with elements of black comedy thrown in for good measure. The French are good at making “cinema,” and sometimes they make decent “movies,” too.
B- (1 hr., 54 min.; French with English subtitles; )