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'Read My Lips'

'Read My Lips' more than a timid woman's story

Friday, September 13, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

You may not have heard of Emmanuelle Devos, but the voters of the Cesars -- the national film awards of France -- certainly have. Her performance in "Read My Lips" earned her a Cesar as best actress over Audrey Tautou, Isabelle Huppert, Charlotte Rampling and Catherine Frot.

 
 
'READ MY LIPS'

RATING: Not rated but R in nature for violence, drinking.

STARRING: Emmanuelle Devos, Vincent Cassel

DIRECTOR: Jacques Audiard

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In "Read My Lips," in French with English subtitles, Devos plays Carla, an unmarried hearing-impaired woman who works as a secretary at a busy property development firm. She manages by wearing hearing aids, but she's all but invisible to co-workers who leave half-filled cups of coffee on her desk or spill the muddy liquid on her paperwork and walk away.

Being able to read lips is both a blessing and a curse for Carla. When taking dictation in meetings, she follows the conversations by lip-reading. When dining in the company canteen, she can watch the men across the room call her a "dog."

When Carla's boss suggests she hire an assistant, she gives the employment agency a description of a dream date instead of a trainee and ends up with an ex-convict named Paul (Vincent Cassel) who knows nothing about spreadsheets or restocking the copier.

Carla, a social misfit who is pressed into baby-sitting by a friend who regales her with tales of an affair, is attracted to Paul and seems to quietly enjoy the power she has over his life. When a colleague takes over a project she's spent three years on, Carla decides to use Paul's special skills to reclaim what is hers.

Paul, meanwhile, has more than delivering the office faxes on his mind. He's deeply in debt to a nightclub owner and forced to work for free as a bartender, but he uses his access to try to extricate himself from his money mess. Soon, he and Carla are in the middle of a heart-quickening heist scheme that could make them rich or just leave them dead.

Watching "Read My Lips," directed and co-written by Jacques Audiard, is like traveling a road that takes sudden turns or forces you onto the back byways. As the movie unfolds, you think it's going to be about Carla's transformation into a woman who doesn't just watch the world from a distance. While that theme is never abandoned, it turns out to be about much more -- with a subplot about a missing woman tossed in, for extra seasoning.

Cassel invests Paul, who wears the same shirt and lopsided tie every day, with a certain ruffian charm and sex appeal. Devos, who must retreat into and then emerge from a frumpy shell, changes before our eyes and yet still makes us feel her desperation to please Paul or belatedly command respect at the office.

"Read My Lips," which could have been tightened by about 10 minutes, turns into a high-wire act that may have you holding your breath. Navigating a tightrope can be a good change for a moviegoer accustomed to having her feet firmly planted on the sticky floor.


Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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