Being completed just as the world of high finance was about to implode in truly spectacular fashion, writer/director Cédric Anger’s psychological thriller is a timely look at the seedier side of financial advisors.
Léo (Gilbert Melki gives a wonderfully harrowing/don’t-get-mad-get-even performance) is an upper-echelon investment advisor. Long-time partner Franzen (Xavier Beauvois) is indebted to his colleague for most of his fortune and all of his mistress, Sylvia (Sophie Cattani), whose day job is Léo’s wife and mother to their precious daughter, Alana.
Their material-rich, fidelity-bankrupt world is about to turn upside down with the arrival of Kopas (Grégoire Colin is the camera-pleasing model of deadly discretion and quiet inner turmoil). The admirer of Mexican cuisine and cable television has rolled into Paris for the express purpose of sending Léo to an eternal bear market. The hired gun, in a wonderfully reminiscent set-up from Mr. Phelps and Mission Impossible, takes his instructions and background information from a DVD and off-screen employer whose patience wears a tad thin when Kopas can’t seem to find just the right moment to complete his assignment.
Being a man of many worlds, it doesn’t take Léo more than a faux client chat and delightfully eerie elevator ride to realize his days are numbered. Rather than slip into the more common victim-as-hunter scenario, the love-lost husband confronts his killer and plays let’s make a deal. From there, the film unfolds in many unexpected ways and holds our attention as surely as Kopas has found his target.
To pass the time (a few extra days are part of the unlikely bargain), Stella (many of the best lines of the purposely light-on-dialogue script are delivered with perfect pitch by Mélanie Laurent) captures Kopas’ attention and libido. Soon his beloved TV shows play second fiddle to the escort’s full service abilities (in one of many not coincidental parallels—lifting Anger’s script into realm of exceptional—both paid dispatcher and doomed target take their women from behind, yet only one employs a dildo). Their unexpected relationship somehow manages to survive a flaming betrayal and is able to—at least—imagine a future.
As good as Anger’s twin capabilities are (the pacing is excellent even as he draws form-and-style-fitting performances out of his talented cast), the film would be just average were it not for the original music crafted and performed (piano) by Grégoire Hetzel. With the beautifully balanced Les Archets de Paris digging deep into the string-noire score (replete with all manner of scene-supporting tones and textures from plagal cadences to muted-trumpet anguish), the frequently wordless scenes move powerfully towards their narrative and emotional destinations. Slipping in a few measures from Mozart’s Overture to Don Giovanni (however, the tempo needs to relax) is a metaphorical knockout: at a climactic moment all things (the music’s accent, story highpoint, Caroline Champetier’s stunning cinematography and Julien Leloup’s razor-sharp editing) combine to create an all-too-rare moment of cinematic greatness.
Come for the excitement, mystery and thrills but stay for the exceptional craft. JWR