It takes many minutes to get to know this lady and, then, only in small
details set forth sparingly, as though we're not at all in a rush to convince
you of anything. About her; about who she is.
Oh, we get to know right away that she's Sarah Morton (Charlotte Rampling) a
somewhat off-putting, successful British mystery novelist who doesn't relate
well to people, even to her own readers. Her publisher John Bosload (the always
estimable Charles Dance), recognizing her need for some mental and career
rejuvenation, offers her the use of his vacation villa in France to recharge
her batteries. Asking for his commitment to come visit while she's there,
she gets none, but goes anyway.
Once there, she checks out John's digs and they're not so bad. She enters
the bedroom of choice and, in a silent glimpse at a feature of the woman, she
finds a cross on the wall over the bed and removes it. The next day, her
tiredness and low mood vanishes as she finds refreshment in the luxury of
privacy and the charm of the nearby village. Soon, a new novel is under way,
work that obviously energizes her. But the idyllic revery is brought to a
smashing halt when, one night, a young lady noisily and unexpectedly arrives,
bags in hand. She's Julie, John's daughter, come to stay at the old man's
Both Julie and Sarah are angry at John's failure to warn each of the other's
right to occupy the house. Sarah turns out to be a nymphet who doesn't like
to sleep alone and whose companion of the night (every night, in an
insatiable parade) is likely to appear over breakfast in any sort of attire
or none at all, a succession of encounters not to Sarah's liking, at all; one
that brings out the latent crankiness. The opposite types are soon at each
other's throats, trying to effect some way to deal with the situation.
Julie's free-spirited ways, which often include frequent displays of
nakedness, begin to attract Sarah. We're not sure if it's a sexual interest
at all, but it is a definite turnon to the author at work. As she types
furiously, we get the idea that she's now writing about Julie, using her as a
character in her new book. Soon, she's even tossing Julie's room for hints
of obscure or secret traits, unseen but somehow sensed complexities, and
discovers the mother lode, Julie's diary.
Perhaps because of the better understanding of her subject, or an increased
respect for her, Sarah invites Julie to dinner as a truce offering, which
develops into an uneasy bond -- one that produces new forms of expression and
outlet for both of them.
Murder, mystery and new patterns of behavior between two women who couldn't
be more opposite and, before you know it, we think we're in the novel being
written. Could it be?
Director Francois Ozon fabricates an engrossing mystery thriller by throwing
disparate samples of the female gender together and finding a way to make
the mixture more explosive than forcing oil and water to go into solution.
Superb film veteran Rampling (65 films in the can) shows a character arc that
lifts her well beyond the classy Englishwoman she obviously is with slowly
streaming revelation and development. Thoroughly French Sagnier, who was in
Ozon's "8 Women" and played Hortense in the "Napoleon" miniseries, is a
convincing sensualist, both self-adoring and desperately needful, turning us
off; turning us on.
The picture is a unique creation and cries for our attention and appreciation
in a season of splashy competition. I don't want to call it an arthouse
picture, for that label is instant death, but art it is.
~~ Jules Brenner