16 October 2023

The Crime is Mine: French comedy recalls the golden age of screwball cinema

| Marcus Kelson
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still from Crime is Mine movie

Isabelle Huppert, Rebecca Marder, and Nadia Tereszkiewicz in The Crime Is Mine (2023). Photo: Supplied.

A woman is seen leaving a luxury house in Paris and wanders the streets for hours. When she gets home to the apartment she shares with another woman, we hear a story of manipulation and rejection. The woman in question is an out-of-work actress named Madeleine Vermier (Nadia Tereszkiewicz).

She was asked to the house of famed French film producer Montferrand who, instead of casting her, molests her. Madeleine’s housemate, an out-of-work lawyer, Pauline Mauleon (Rebecca Marder), hears this story ahead of their landlord arriving, threatening to throw them out for not paying months of back rent.

To make matters worse, a policeman arrives and questions Madeleine about the murder of Montferrand. He was shot in the head on the day she was there.

And so starts the new Francois Ozon comedy caper, The Crime is Mine.

Set in Paris in 1935, The Crime is Mine is loosely based on the play Mon Crime by Georges Berr and Louis Verneuil; it has been adapted to film before, True Confessions (1937) and Cross My Heart (1946).

Before the trial, it is apparent that both the actor and the lawyer are probably not very good at what they do, as is the prosecutor who brings this to court, mounting a case built on the flimsiest evidence.

Naturally, there is a teary confession – “it was a crime of passion!” – a unanimous acquittal and applause from the people in the room and the careers of both women are seriously launched.

But then there is a spanner in the works and the plot twists in an entirely different direction, which we’d all been expecting and comes in the shape of silent movie star Odette Chaumette, played with a delicious lust by Isabelle Huppert.

Yes, there are side plots, with the boyfriend planning to marry another woman so he can keep Madeleine, the friend who helps her out in ways one wouldn’t have expected, and a play within a film about the murder for which she was found not guilty.

The other term I want to use here is screwball because this, like the other films mentioned earlier, evokes the style of cinema from that period, particularly in American cinema. I’m thinking of films like The Front Page/His Girl Friday (Hecht, Milestone, Hawks), Philadelphia Story (George Cukor), and generally, the works of masterminds such as Frank Capra and Ernst Lubitsch.

When asked by Variety magazine whether he thought he was making a Cinderella story, Ozon said: “I had the idea to make this film at a time when everything was so depressing during the lockdown. At that moment, I just had the desire to return to comedy, to make something light while tackling things that concern us today, meaning the power dynamics and the status of women.

The Crime Is Mine is ultimately about the triumph of sorority. Obviously, it echoes what’s been happening in the last few years in the Western world with a new wave of feminism.”

This is where Ozon triumphs in the craft of movie making: he injects very serious arguments about inequity, harassment and women’s rights and pairs it with comedy, notably in two of his other films, the exquisite 8 Women and Potiche.

In fact, he himself said this was a nod to Francois Truffaut’s The Last Metro (Truffaut’s mother’s maiden name was Montferrand).

The writing here and the cast are all on fire, particularly the two leads, who seemingly bumble from one thing to the next but ultimately triumph with spectacular glee.

The Crime is Mine, French irony with English subtitles, receives four out of five stars. It’s showing at Palace, United and Hoyts cinemas.

Original Article published by Marcus Kelson on Riotact.

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