Friday, 30 March 2007

The Page Turner (2006)

The Page Turner

If The Page Turner were a book then its makers would have to change the title to avoid action from the Advertising Standards Authority. I like a good Hitchcock-ian thriller as much as the next man, and subtitles are always preferable to a badly-dubbed foreign sound-track, but this French attempt at a pyschological thriller disappoints on so many levels, it's hard to come away feeling less than cheated by the promise of the premise. (If Danny Kaye from The Court Jester, which I reviewed the other day, had seen this film I'm sure he'd have come up with a rhyme along the lines of 'The promise of the premise is the clue that is not true'!)

Julie Richalet plays the young Melanie Prouvost who could pass as Damien (from 'The Omen')'s sister

As the film opens we meet Melanie Prouvost, the young daughter of a butcher who appears to have a rare gift as a piano player. She has worked long and hard for her proud and doting parents, and an exam could mean the difference between outside support and financial difficulties for her struggling parents. Unfortunately the crucial exam goes wrong when one of the judges, a famous concert pianist, is momentarily interrupted by a request for a signed photo, which distracts the young Prouvost so much that she completely ruins the piece she has prepared as a result. As she exits the exam in tears, stony faced in a way that would have done The Omen's 'Damien, son of the Devil' proud, she slams a piano lid shut on an innocent girl preparing her own piano piece in an adjacent room. The menace is palpable and all that's missing is the shriek!-shriek!-shriek! of some Psycho -like violins! Bring on the big revenge story!

Suddenly it's ten years later, and the same girl (different actress!) has found a job as a student intern with a lawyer. The lawyer's wife, it turns out, is a famous concert pianist (aha!) recovering from a mysterious hit and run accident a couple of years earlier. She is highly-strung and anxious about a forthcoming radio concert that will be 'make or break' for her career. With a young son that needs looking after, and a long business trip abroad, the lawyer is looking for somebody to help his wife out as nanny. Melanie appears to be just the girl for the job and quickly ingratiates herself by being efficient, and helping the wife prepare for her concert by becoming her 'page turner' as she rehearses. The truth is, of course, she has never forgotten, or forgiven the teacher who's 'selfish' distraction caused her to abandon her dreams all those years ago. Make no mistake - she is out for revenge!

Deborah Francoise plays the older Melanie Prouvost who has revenge for a failed piano exam on her mind

All of which sounds great as the set-up for a The Hand That Rocked The Cradle - like thriller. We appear to be on fairly familiar, some might even say hackneyed, territory here and I'm a sucker for a good scary, psycho-revenge story. The problem is that the premise, used everywhere to promote the film and get bums on seats, takes about two thirds of the film's running time to set up. There are sinister moments, but they're merely rather weak suggestions for the most part, with nothing much really happening to keep you hooked. Even the casual mention of a 'hit and run accident' some years earlier is just tossed into the mix and then ignored, where a more traditional film would have had the surprise discovery about who that hit and run driver actually was. The film's defenders will no doubt argue that this is a subtle work, and one that ignores the rather crass traditions of the genre, but the problem is you spend most of the film wondering when something's going to happen. And when something eventually does happen right at the end of the film it's so ludicrous that one can't help but feel cheated. (SPOILER ALERT: 'Oh look, despite being married with a young son, I've suddenly become a lesbian and fallen in love with the sullen, pouty girl who let me down when I needed her most'!) All that set-up for this??!!!

Admittedly the women are beautifully cast, with both versions of Melanie Prouvost (the young girl, and then the young woman ten years later) looking so alike you'd swear the director had discovered the secrecy of time travel. Catherine Frot gives an excellent performance as the sympathetic, but overly-anxious victim who's attempting to rebuild her career and get life back on track, and there are some excellent actors in minor, supporting roles too. But without a believable conclusion, or even any real explanations for what happens, the whole thing is too much of a sow's ear for any force of acting talent to be able to turn it into a purse.

Catherine Frot is the famous pianist, rather fragile and highly strung after being involved in a hit and run accident a couple of years before

The film is somewhat low budget and lacks the visual 'spit and polish' of a Hollywood mainstream movie. The musical sound-track, whilst appropriate to the background theme of piano's and pianists, could have helped the piece, but unfortunately doesn't inject any much-needed excitement into the piece. The psychotic wrong-doer is pretty much a blank personality, which means that much of the film features little dialogue or much in the way of emotion. English critics weren't taken in by the ponderous pace and rather pretentious feel of the whole thing and generally recognised the film for what it is, with negative reviews being pretty much the norm. Look on the other side of The Pond however, and things appear to be very different - at least if those imdb and rotten tomatoes ratings can be believed.

If you like your films to be foreign, slow and vaguely thought-provoking, then you might enjoy The Page Turner. For me the film reeks of 'film student pretension', slightly diverting but with no real meat at its core. If you're looking for a good psychological thriller, as indicated by the synopsis being used to promote the film, you're best advised to steer clear. There's much better fare out there for fans of the genre.

Pascal Gregory plays Jean Fouchecourt who has hired Deborah as a nanny for his anxious wife, little realising the two have crossed paths in the past

The transfer to DVD is excellent, given the low budget of the original film which is, at times, all too evident. There are no signs of dust, dirt or film print damage on the transfer. The extra's are generous, if somewhat dull, with the director pontificating (in accented English) for over 40 minutes on how wonderful his own film is.

The Making of documentary appears to be endless 'behind the scenes' footage - long unedited takes with no dialogue or commentary and only the odd 'talking head' interview between each long take to liven things up. Anyone who's ever been on a film set will know how boring this stuff can be! On my copy I found it impossible to display English subtitles for this feature which made the whole thing even more impenetrable. The original theatrical trailer - much more exciting than the actual film, since it edits all the highlights down into a succinct few minutes - rounds out the package.

If you like 'world cinema art house' movies then this is probably worth a rental. Otherwise I'd give this one a miss. Extremely disappointing!

A lecherous musician is about to find out that it's not just drinks that can be spiked!

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