FILM Early this year came the announcement that Brian De Palma was hot to do an English remake of Alain Corneau's Love Crime, saying "Not since Dressed to Kill have I had a chance to combine eroticism, suspense, mystery, and murder into one spellbinding cinematic experience." Apparently he thinks his intervening decades' meh-to-awful "erotic thrillers" Body Double (1984), Raising Cain (1992), Femme Fatale (2002), and Black Dahlia (2006) don't compare (a good call, that).
The results, should they come to fruition, may well prove a landmark in the annals of lurid guilty-pleasure trash. (Although you could argue it can't possibly get any guiltier than Femme Fatale already managed.) And who doesn't want to wish De Palma well in nostalgic salute to 1976's Carrie, 1973's Sisters, 1974's Phantom of the Paradise, 1983's Scarface, and such? But with the original Love Crime finally making it to local theaters, it's an opportune moment to be appalled in advance: because there is no way he's not going to pour the equivalent of greasy massage oil, Hershey's Syrup, and vermilion stage blood over what is a neat, dry, fully clothed model of a modern Hitchcockian thriller, one more Rear Window (1954) than Psycho (1960).
No doubt in France Love Crime looks pretty mainstream. But here its soon-to be-despoiled virtues of narrative intricacy and restraint are upscale pleasures, an occasion to get just a little dirty at a Landmark, as one can feel both high-minded and devilish reading a Patricia Highsmith novel. Ludivine Sagnier, France's limpid answer to Chloë Sevigny, plays assistant to high-powered corporate executive Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas). The boss enjoys molding protégée Isabelle to her own image, making them a double team of carefully planned guile unafraid to use sex appeal as a business strategy. But Isabelle is expected to know her place — even when that place robs her of credit for her own ideas — and when she stages a small rebellion, Christine's revenge is cruelly out of scale, a high-heeled boot brought down to squash an ant. It doesn't help that Isabelle has by now fallen in love with Philippe (Patrick Mille), who is Christine's boy toy and may merely be enlivening the other woman's bed on loan.
Halfway through an act of vengeance occurs that is shocking and satisfying, even if it leaves the remainder of Corneau and Nathalie Carter's clever screenplay deprived of the very thing that had made it such a sardonic delight so far. The rest is a question of whether that crime (which really doesn't have much to do with "love") can be covered up or not, a matter that holds interest but stretches story and performance credibility somewhat. Nonetheless, this is pulp fun of an elegant and intelligent type. With Scott Thomas' inherent frostiness — which she is actor enough to completely lose on other occasions — ideally employed as the chic superior anyone would eventually want to strangle, Love Crime has no need of the naked writhing across desktops and Playboy "lesbian" frissons very likely to surface as "improvements" in the forthcoming Brian De Palma joint.
Corneau (who died at age 67 last August, just after the film's premiere) had an interesting, diverse, not-always-distinguished career, some highlights being the 1979 Jim Thompson adaptation Série Noire and 1991's glacial costume-drama hit Tout les Matins du Monde. No masterpiece, Love Crime closes the book on his career not with a bang but with a crisp, satisfying snap.
LOVE CRIME opens Fri/9 in Bay Area theaters.