The Page Turner
- Director: Denis Dercourt
- Cast: Déborah François, Catherine Frot, Pascal Greggory
- Running time: 81 minutes
The French have an off-putting approach to some genres—comedies, for example—but they excel at tasteful, well-composed thrillers with nasty cores. The title of Denis Dercourt's The Page Turner refers in part to the way the movie keeps viewers jangled, anxious to see what happens next. It also refers to an actual page-turner: young go-getter Déborah François, who takes a job assisting the husband of famed concert pianist Catherine Frot, and later uses her gamine charms to become Frot's assistant. What Frot doesn't realize is that they've met before. When François was a girl, she auditioned for a conservatory in front of a panel that included Frot, and when Frot signed an autograph mid-recital, she broke François' concentration, inadvertently sabotaging her fledgling career. So whatever François has in mind for Frot, it's not likely to be pleasant.
What makes The Page Turner effective is that nothing about François' plan seems immediately obvious or predictable. Dercourt wrests a lot of tension out of an early sequence in which a nerve-wracked Frot paces the floor before a live radio performance where François could potentially embarrass her publicly. (Even the piece of music Frot's ensemble plays sounds brittle.) But it's just as unnerving when François takes an interest in mentoring Frot's son, who's the same age François was when her dreams were shattered. Then there's the matter of the too-intimate kiss François gives Frot after a performance, bewitching her so thoroughly that she stays loyal even when the page-turner starts messing up.
Like a lot of French thrillers, The Page Turner is a little too neat, and self-consciously vague at the end. But it's fascinating to observe and try to interpret François' mysterious smile as she eyes her boss. As she continues to delay her revenge until just the right moment, does she begin to develop sympathy for Frot, who seems so sweet and human up close? Or is she too focused on righting a cosmic wrong, whatever the toll?