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Smell my shirt
Dennis Littrell12 January 2004
For those of you who have seen this rather extraordinary romantic thriller noir, my review title is self-explanatory: this is cinema verité for the 21st century. For those of you who haven't, let me note that this begins slowly, so stay with it. You won't regret it.

What French director Jacques Audiard has done is create a taunt noir thriller with a romantic subplot intricately woven into the fabric of the main plot, told in the realistic and nonglamorous manner usually seen in films that win international awards. In fact, Sur mes lèvre did indeed win a Cesar (for Emmanuelle Devos) and some other awards. For Audiard character development and delineation are more important than action, yet the action is extremely tense. The romance is of the counter-cultural sort seen in films like, say, Kalifornia (1993) or Natural Born Killer (1994) or the Aussie Kiss or Kill (1997), a genre I call "grunge love on the lam" except that the principles here are not on the road (yet) and still have most of their moral compasses intact.

Vincent Cessel and Emmanuelle Devos play the nonglamorous leads, Paul and Carla. Carla is a mousy corporate secretary--actually she's supposed to be mousy, but in fact is intriguing and charismatic and more than a wee bit sexy. But she is inexperienced with men, doesn't dance, is something of a workaholic who lives out a fantasy life home alone with herself. She is partially deaf and adept at reading lips, a talent that figures prominently in the story. She is a little put on by the world and likes to remove her hearing aid or turn it off. When she collapses from overwork her boss suggests she hire an assistant. She hires Paul, who is just out of prison, even though he has no clerical experience. He is filled with the sort of bad boy sex appeal that may recall Jean-Paul Belmondo in Godard's Breathless (1959) or even Richard Gere in the American remake from 1983. We get the sense that Carla doesn't realize that she hired him because she found him attractive. When Carla gets squeezed out of credit for a company deal, she gets Paul to help her turn the tables. From there it is but a step to a larger crime. Note that Carla is unconsciously getting Paul to "prove" his love for her (and his virility) by doing what she wants, working for her, appearing in front of her girl friends as her beau, etc.

The camera work features tense, off-center closeups so that we see a lot of the action not in the center of our field of vision but to the periphery as in things partially hidden or overheard or seen out of the corner of our eyes. Audiard wants to avoid any sense of a set or a stage. The camera is not at the center of the action, but is a spy that catches just enough of what is going on for us to follow. Additionally, the film is sharply cut so that many scenes are truncated or even omitted and it is left for us to surmise what has happened. This has the effect of heightening the viewer's involvement, although one has to pay attention. Enhancing the staccato frenzy is a sparse use of dialogue. This works especially well for those who do not speak French since the distraction of having to follow the subtitles is kept to a minimum.

Powering the film is a script that reveals and explores the unconscious psychological mechanisms of the main characters while dramatizing both their growing attraction to each other and their shared criminal enterprise. But more than that is the on-screen chemistry starkly and subtly developed by both Devos and Cessel. It is pleasing to note that the usual thriller plot contrivances are kept to a minimum here, and the surprises really are surprises.

See this for Emmanuelle Devos whose skill and offbeat charisma more than make up for a lack of glamor, and for Vincent Cessel for a testosterone-filled performance so intense one can almost smell the leather jacket.

(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
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A Breath of French Air
jandcmcq30 July 2006
This was one of the DVD's I recently bought in a set of six called "Frenchfilm" to brush up our French before our planned holiday in beautiful Provence this year. So far, as well as improving our French we have considerably enhanced our appreciation of French cinema.

What a breath of fresh air to the stale, predictable, unimaginative, crash bang wallop drivel being churned out by Hollywood. What a good example for screenplay writers, actors, directors and cinematographers to follow. It was so stimulating also to see two identifiable characters in the lead roles without them having to be glossy magazine cover figures.

The other thing I liked about this film was the slow character and plot build up which kept you guessing as to how it was all going to end. Is there any real good in this selfish thug who continually treats his seemingly naïve benefactor with the type of contempt that an ex-con would display? Will our sexually frustrated poor little half deaf heroine prove herself to the answer to her dreams and the situation that fate has bestowed upon her? The viewer is intrigued by these questions and the actors unravel the answers slowly and convincingly as they face events that challenge and shape their feeling towards each other.

Once you have seen this film, like me you may want to see it again. I still have to work out the director's psychological motive for the sub plot in the role of the parole officer and some of the subtle nuances of camera work are worth a second look. The plot does ask for a little imagination when our hero is given a chance to assist our misused and overworked heroine in the office. You must also be broad minded to believe in her brilliant lip reading and how some of the action falls into place. But if you go along for the thrilling ride with this example of French cinema at its best you will come out more than satisfied. Four stars out of five for me.
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Deft, fresh crime story adds luster to director Jacques Audiard's name
Chris Knipp30 July 2002
'Sur mes Lèvres' (`Read My Lips') is so focused on its two main characters it's claustrophobic, but the payoff is that we get inside their lives and stay inside for a very concentrated and interesting 115 minutes.

Jacques Audiard has crafted a unique character-driven crime movie with a fresh visual style and a compulsively watchable story. Emmanuelle Devos won the César for her performance as Carla the deaf office worker, and she dominates the movie along with the sexy, sleazy Paul (Vincent Cassel), a recently paroled petty thief. The movie is about their odd relationship -- mutual exploitation, let's call it -- and about the successful caper that results as well as Carla's newfound power at the busy property development company where she hires Paul, despite his complete lack of office skills, as her assistant. It's obvious she's lonely and looks on this as a chance to get a man, but it's also a chance to have somebody to kick around the way she's been kicked around at the office, and, when she sees the value of it, a chance to use his muscle and menace to bolster her job.

What neither of them anticipates is the way their mutual dependency and very different skills lead them into intimacy and crime -- not necessarily in that order. Audiard, who co-scripted the film with Tonino Benacquista, and who's known for the richly entertaining `A Self-Made Hero' (`Un Héros Très Discret," 1996), adopts here a very selective, liquid, often claustrophobic way of filming and editing. He uses a lot of tight close-ups, dark lighting, and fast cuts between scenes that are as rapid and unceremonious as Benoît Jacquot's in the 1998 `School of Flesh' (`L'École de la Chair'). We know we have to stay on our toes. We're expected to pay close attention and do some thinking.

We also often feel we're spying on people from Carla's point of view, as she does when she reads the lips of gossiping coworkers for herself (and later for Paul) at the office canteen, or when at Paul's prompting she uses binoculars to read lips in a gangland nightclub owner's apartment that Paul starts casing out after he's forced because of a debt to moonlight at the club. In her apartment we see her put on Paul's bloody shirt naked after he's been beaten, or try on sexy new shoes the same way, and again the camera angle is dark and close up so we only glimpse parts of her in the dirty mirror. (There's a parallelism between iris-ed images in the movie and Carla's limited hearing.) This is an intrusive, expressionistic camera, but the editing makes us maintain an alert distance as the plot moves from Carla's initially limited existence to its transformation by the explosive personality of Paul and the more and more dangerous embroilments that happen when the two become a mutually exploitive team.

We keep seeing the characters enter into yet one more new scene that we sense is risky without quite knowing why. Somehow we're detached and scared at the same time. Paul and Carla each create a world of uncertainty and peril for each other. There's a growing unease that turns into increasing excitement and danger, and finally there's Hitchcockian suspense effectively augmented by forceful cross-cutting between Carla watching the gangsters through the apartment windows after a heist and Paul manning the noisy nightclub bar, which now also has become a threatening place.

The movie has flaws. An airline ticket seems to have wings. Carla is too magically able to carry out Paul's instructions, gathered only from a few hastily mouthed words lip-read between two buildings. A subplot concerning Paul's parole officer (Olivier Perrier) is superfluous and confusing. Given that so much effective use is made of varying sound levels to convey Carla's hearing with and without her two hearing aids -- turned up, turned down, or removed -- the musical background score in non-nightclub scenes is obtrusive.

But what's strong about this movie is that it has two actors with the power to dominate the screen, and a director who works with a lot of authority and freshness in presenting his vision.

Emmanuelle Devos' characterization as the mousy but smart and persistent Carla is so rich and assured we may just take it for granted -- but the French film industry didn't, since they not only gave her the César, but did so in a year when the other contenders were Charlotte Rampling in `Sur la Sable,' Audrey Tautou in `Amélie,' and Isabelle Huppert in `La Pianiste." Vincent Cassel, who's said he's an instinctive actor, simply embodies his part: it's his prison tattoo, his sleazy mustache, his oily hair, and his tall, wiry, threatening physicality that make him both repulsive and sexy as Paul. We experience here the powerful onscreen presence that's turned him into one of the hottest young film actors in France since he starred in Mattieu Kassovitz's `La Haine' in 1995. (He was seen in the US last year in the enjoyable costume flick, `Le Pacte des Loups,' and is in a lot of new movies to come.)

People are saying this is sure to lead to an American remake with big stars. Maybe so, but it's Audiard's vision that makes the picture interesting. All the Hollywood stars in the world won't take the place of Audiard's handheld camera and mercurial editing style, or a unique talent that combines sensitivity to the indignities of office workers and parolees with the ability to reinvent film noir tradition.

Also unique -- and unlikely to survive an American remake -- is the repression of sexuality between Paul and Carla, which makes the sexual tension between them seem all the more powerful throughout this tightly constructed, economical movie.
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Long Live Le Film Noir!!
snake7730 September 2002
If you're a fan of film noir and think they don't make 'em like they used to, here is your answer - they just don't make 'em in Hollywood anymore. We must turn to the French to remember how satisfying a well-made film from that genre can be. Read My Lips is a wonderfully nasty little gift to the faithful from director Jacques Audiard, featuring sharp storytelling and fine performances from Emmanuelle Devos and Vincent Cassel.

The basic plot could have been written in the 40's: dumb but appealing ex-con and a smart but dowdy femme fatale (who turns out to be ruthlessly ambitious) discover each other while living lives of bleak desperation and longing, manipulate each other to meet their own ends, develop complex love/hate relationship, cook up criminal scheme involving heist, double crosses, close calls and lots of money. All action takes place in depressing, seedy and/or poorly lit locations.

Audiard has fashioned some modern twists, of course. The femme fatale is an under-appreciated office worker who happens to be nearly deaf and uses her lip reading ability to take revenge on those who marginalize her. And where you might expect steamy love scenes you discover that both characters are sexually awkward and immature. Add in a bit of modern technology and music and it seems like a contemporary film, but make no mistake - this is old school film noir. It's as good as any film from the genre and easily one of the best films I've seen all year.
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Hitchcock With The Gloves Off
French film directors continue to amaze with their extraordinary ability to simulate the sights and sounds of ordinary, everyday suburban life. This was readily apparent with the release early in 2002 of L'Emploi du temps ( Time Out ) , a brilliant character study of of a white collar worker's descent into melancholy after having been fired from his job. As is the penchant of French filmmakers , many scenes were shot on real streets and in public places, giving a cinema verite feel to the story , yet L'Emploi du temps also possessed an elegant look thanks to excellent camera work and some stunning location footage ( most notably a Swiss mountain retreat ). Running fairly on the heels of that masterful movie comes another impressive French production, Jacques Audiard's gritty crime caper, Sur mes levres ( Read My Lips ). Actually, to tag this film a crime caper does it a disservice because it is so much more than that. As with the earlier French release, it is an incisive character study of marginal people using their wits to get ahead in a society that has turned its back on them. In a Paris construction firm Carla, a shy, diminutive young woman sits at her desk, sequestered to an area of the office that is a major pathway to the xerox machines and restrooms.

Obnoxious coworkers use the front of Carla's desk to chat and drop off their half-finished Styrofoam cups of coffee. Partially deaf, Carla turns her hearing aids on and off at will if noise becomes bothersome, be it the drone of the paper copiers or the shrill crying of a friend's baby. When her boss calls her into the office to suggest that she hire a secretarial assistant to help her with the work load, Carla fears she may lose her job. At the employment office Carla lists the specifications she wants for her assistant (preferably male) as if she were at a Personals Agency. He should be 25 years old and clean -cut , with extensive computer and filing skills. When the agency sends over an unkempt , menacing looking young man, Carla is both shocked and intrigued. They leave the office and have lunch at a local eatery, where Carla interviews her prospective assistant. When she finds out that he has just gotten out of prison , Carla initially wants nothing to do with Paul, but has a change of heart and hires him on. Although she is basically kind toward her helper, Carla now finds herself in a position of authority and possessing a newfound sense of power. Paul learns quickly and becomes an able worker. Carla helps Paul find a temporary place to live and even covers for him when his parole officer shows up one day at the office wondering why Paul missed his appointment. During one of their lunch breaks Carla informs Paul of her hearing deficiency and reveals her ability to read lips. Later, when an avaricious coworker blatantly takes over a project Carla has been working on, a furious Carla asks Paul's help in seeking revenge on the man. From here on in Sur mes levres becomes an increasingly intense crime drama escalating into some of the most violently graphic scenes that have been shown on the screen in recent years. The screenplay borrows elements from Hitchcock, most notably REAR WINDOW, where Carla's lip-reading talent comes into full play using a pair of binoculars. There is a teasing, on-again, off-again sexual attraction between the two protagonists that culminates in a rather strange homage to NORTH BY NORTHWEST, but it works because of the considerable sexual heat that builds slowly between the two stars. That being said, what one carries away from this movie isn't so much the similarities to classic Hitchcock thrillers, although those elements are definitely there, but the pervasive view a of a modern day city (in this case Paris) where life runs the gamut from mundane workdays to a boozy, garish nightlife where sex, drugs and laundered money infiltrate the lives of several characters. Unlike Hollywood productions, this is a psychological suspense yarn where the people look like the everyday man and woman on the street, where a punch in the face or groin sounds like a sickening thud and where the office is a place to be feared. It's Hitchcock with the gloves off.
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What A Wonderful Film
lildixie16 July 2004
I watched this movie over the span of two days. The whole day after watching the first part, I was distracted by recollections of the imagery and just basic feel of the movie and couldn't wait to see the rest.

It was so refreshing to see a movie with a captivating plot and sensuality without excessive sexuality. The directing and editing tied everything together wonderfully. Definitely a nail-biter towards the end and fast-paced enough to keep one interested but not so much so that it leaves one confused.

I can't think of anything negative to say about it. If only they made movies this good in America these days.....
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There is no reason for not believing in the quality of this movie
Philip Van der Veken20 July 2005
I must admit that I had my doubts about this movie before I was going to watch it. The main reason for that is because it was compared to a Hitchcock movie. I've seen several movies that were said to be inspired by Hitchcock or that could have been made by the 'Master of Suspense' himself, but so far I haven't seen any of these movie that would be able to stand the test of time. In my opinion Hitchcock has become a household name which is too easily used to promote some (cheap) thrillers, but on the other hand I must admit that I was intrigued by it because this is a European movie. Normally it's the big Hollywood studios who like to abuse Hitchcock's name if that can raise their income. But this movie was made in one of the most chauvinistic European countries ever and I'm sure that most French would rather drop dead than to admit that their movies have been inspired by an Englishman. That's why I decided to give this movie a try and I must say that I'm glad that I did.

"Sur mes lèvres" or "Read my Lips" as it is called in English, tells the story of a young secretary named Carla. She is a hardworking and loyal employee, but has never been very appreciated by her colleagues. That has much to do with the fact that she suffers from a hearing deficiency, which has denied her to climb up on the hierarchical ladder of the company. But when she is allowed to hire a trainee that can work for her, all this is about to change. Paul Angeli is a 25 year old and completely unskilled ex-convict. The man is a thief, but Carla gives him a chance and covers for him when needed. She hopes to teach him what a regular life should look like, but at the same time he drags her with him in his old life...

Since I still believe that the name Hitchcock is used too often to describe a very good thriller - which this movie definitely is - I will not make any comparisons between Hitchcock and Jacques Audiard's directing. Fact is that the man has done a really good job with this movie. I hadn't heard of him before, but it is true that he knows how to build up suspense and how to keep you interested from the beginning until the end. That also has a lot to do with the very fine and original story of course. I doubt if there is someone in Hollywood who has ever come up with the idea of using a handicapped woman in a powerful role, instead of making her the helpless subject of an abusive husband (you know, the typical TV-movie story).

Also worth noticing is the acting in this movie. Vincent Cassel is quite famous, but Emmanuelle Devos was a complete mystery to me. There is absolutely nothing glamorous about their roles, but they both did an excellent job with their characters, making them feel very believable and realistic. Paul could have been the average tough guy right out of jail and Carla the typically helpless woman, but thanks to their performances, you really believe that these are two strong people who both have had some bad luck in life but who will make the best out of it together.

All in all this is a powerful movie with a very fine script and some excellent acting. Despite the fact that I had my doubts about it, I've soon become one of its greatest admirers. I give this movie an 8/10. Don't hesitate to give it a try.
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A gripping character-driven psychodramatic caper flick
George Parker24 July 2003
"Read My Lips" tells of a strange symbiosis which develops between a plain, socially maladroit female office worker (Devos) and her workplace trainee, a crude excon (Casel). As the film fleshes out this unlikely duo down to their ids they become embroiled in a chilling merging of the minds, each using the other for their own selfish reasons with an extraordinary outcome. Good stuff for anyone into character-driven films with strong psychodramatic undercurrents. In French with easy to read subtitles and good translation. (B+)
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Fascinating and compelling storytelling
MrGKB17 August 2005
I picked this one up on a whim from the library, and was very pleasantly surprised. Lots of tight, expressionistic camera work, an equally tight script, and two superb actors all meld together to make one very fine piece of film. Not for the reptilian multiplex brain, but rather the true aficionado of cinema. If Hollywood ever does get its grimy hands on it, I'm sure it will ruin it. A choice treat all the way around. Other posters here have more than amply sung its praises, so I needn't bother duplicating their paeans; just take their advice, and mine, and don't miss this gem. Call it what you like; I call it two hours of entertainment well-spent. Read my lips: don't miss it.
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An Engrossingly Original French Thriller
Ralph Michael Stein10 April 2004
I settled back to watch "Read My Lips," a plate of Freedom Fries before me. The food was quickly forgotten as I became engrossed by director and co-writer Jacques Audiard's original and superb thriller.

Carla (Emmanuelle Devos) is a secretary at a firm that develops major building projects. She actually has some significant responsibilities that don't often fall to secretaries and she's capable and ambitious. And thwarted by a male hierarchy that will exploit but not reward her.

Work piling up faster than she can handle it, Carla is told to hire a secretary. Enter ex-con and general layabout Paul (Vincent Cassel). He lies about his skills and in fact has none that any legitimate enterprise might require. After an initial serious misunderstanding by Paul as to Carla's interest in him, the two become allies. A quirky friendship starts. In a stunt that would have made a real Carla a major contender on "The Apprentice," she trumps her egotistic male adversary at work with Paul's connivance. Exit the rival.

Carla is virtually deaf without her hearing aid. With it she hears almost normally. She turns the hearing aid off to isolate herself from unpleasant sounds and annoying people. She's also very lonely. A heroic makeup effort was made to have her appear plain but she's truly beautiful. She hasn't a boyfriend. She babysits so a friend can have a liaison (it IS a French movie) Worse and humiliatingly, she accedes to a girlfriend's plea that she hang out somewhere while that married friend has it off with her paramour in Carla's bed. Not nice.

As Carla and Paul get to know each other better, the barely repressed larcenous side of the not so former felon emerges. There's a side story, by the way, of Paul's relationship with his parole officer which neatly complements the main plot and has its own big surprise ending.

"Read My Lips?" Ingenious Paul recognizes that Carla's ability to read lips, even from a considerable distance, is more than the amusing parlor trick it first seems to be.

From there a caper develops. Enough said.

Paul and Carla are a true criminal oddball couple. She wants love but will also accept money. He wants her, sort of, but business must come before possible erotic satiation. Together Cassel and Devos are strong actors carrying an unusual crime tale to its end very convincingly.

Rent it or buy it but if you enjoy a good crime story you'll go for "Read My Lips." And you may well want to watch it several times: I do.

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Great except for the message.
stephenb19 August 2002
Interesting characters, lots of tension. As close to black and white without being black and white. I was turned off by how casually the supposedly sympathetic mainstream character, a quiet, near deaf secretary, was able to turn to crime to ruin colleagues, rough up people in her way and finally participate in a heist, and set up someone to be bumped off as a decoy to her own get-away. I'm a little put off by the trend for otherwise quality movies to portray criminals in a sympathetic way without addressing the injury they've done to others other than to portray their immediate opponents as jerks. In this film we never know who's money it really is they abscond with, or what happens to the innocent wife who the sympathetic deaf-secretary uses to set up the of the sleazy bar owner to take the fall for the missing loot. Too bad, the film could have been great.
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Visual Narrative
tedg19 July 2002
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers herein.

The point is always how to tell stories through the eye and not the ear, through images rather than dialog. Jacques Audiard places that notion in both the manner of telling this story and the story itself.

The framing is subtle. On the viewers' side, our surrogate is the parole officer whose job it is to spy on Paul. That role as spy would shift to Carla as the story moves and the camera shifts among watching her, giving her POV or describing what she knows or may know. The oft-cited reference to `Rear Window' is not apt. That camera was anchored. that camera was architecturally motivated, not personally. That camera never shifted into a character's mind.

But the attention to the parole officer is what makes this particularly intelligent. His own angst anchors the film, which is to remind us that the motivation behind every shot in the film is shared between us and what we see. To underscore, the camera is unsteady, uses (apparently) available light, is sometimes fuzzily irised. That irising and blurring is as likely to reflect some perceptual confusion or ourselves as it is by Carla or Paul. A similar, more obvious `blurring' is managed with the hearing aids.

On the other side of the framing is an attempted rape. This scene is filmed realistically, unlike everything else which moves through a genre-world. I am increasingly aware of the power of framing devices to define our experience, and this is done well.

As with many intimate films, viewers credit the actors. This is a big mistake in my view. They are good enough here, but the power comes from the eye and the manipulation of the mind. Cassel is an automatic actor, but then he plays an automatic character.

Emmanuelle Devos knows how to intercourse with the camera. She responds as much to the movement of the camera as to movement within the `official' action. Her eyes. Follow her eyes.

Ted's Rating -- 3 of 4: Worth watching.
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Partially disabled lonely heart turned bad girl joins forces with ex-con sociopath in French version of 'Bonnie and Clyde'
Turfseer5 May 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Carla is a partially deaf woman who works in an office at a real estate firm in Paris. I was a bit unsure as to whether I found Carla to be wholly believable. She's one of those lonely hearts who somehow is sexually repressed. Her lack of confidence is explained by her handicap as well as constantly being made fun of by her co-workers. She is so stressed out that she ends up fainting on the job, which leads her boss (who unlike the intolerant co-workers) offers to hire an assistant for her. The arrival of the assistant, Paul, a parolee, is the film's inciting incident.

Carla begins her Act 2 journey tied to Paul, who makes it quite clear that office work just isn't his 'thing'. Carla at first plays hard to get with bad boy Paul due to that sexual repression. Even if you buy the idea that no-so-bad-looking Carla is clueless when it comes to men, she has no guilt feelings about moving up in the office hierarchy. Ironically, it's not the amoral Paul who urges her to come up with the idea of stealing a co-worker's file, leading to the co-worker's resignation--it's actually Carla herself! As a result, mousy little Carla is promoted from secretary to project manager. After Carla finds Paul a place to stay, an apartment under construction, owned by her firm—she makes it clear that she no longer has any fear of the fledging sociopath when boldly stating to him: "You owe me".

While Vincent Cassell is fairly convincing as Paul, the character could have used a bit more humor. He just was a little too one-note for me, although Cassell does well in establishing Paul as truly menacing. The rest of 'Read my lips' chronicles Carla's defection to the 'dark side' as she transforms herself into the amoral counterpart of her bad boy love interest. Carla's transformation takes place gradually—she puts on a sexy outfit but almost gets herself raped outside a nightclub, only to be saved by Paul who is now beginning to show a 'sensitive' side. Now it's Carla's turn to pay Paul back for his 'good deed' and agrees to hang out on a rooftop, clutching a pair of binoculars, and attempting to read the lips of Paul's new boss, Marchand, and his sleazy associates, so that Paul may discover if they're plotting a crime, which ultimately might give him a chance to rip them off.

While the whole idea that Carla is actually able to read the lips of people through binoculars seems a bit dubious, I was willing to suspend my disbelief with the hope that the second half of Act 2, your basic caper story, picked up. Some of it's clever, as a plane ticket apparently is the Macguffin here, with Carla breaking into Marchand's apartment and planting the ticket inside his coat—thus leading his associates to believe that Marchand has double crossed them, stealing their money and then apparently buying the ticket with plans to leave the country. As it turns out, it's Carla and Paul who have pulled off the heist and leave Marchand holding the proverbial bag. Not all of it's clear as Marchand and company attack each other off screen and we never get to learn who exactly is killed and who survives.

The film's denouement is a big letdown as it becomes clear that director Jacques Audiard's sympathies lie more with the criminal element than with a law abiding citizenry. At first one wonders if Audiard is merely presenting a film noir-like tale of an amoral couple 'getting away' with a crime without being punished. That works in a film like 'Chinatown', since the film's scenarists are not making a statement, approving of the amoral characters' behavior but merely chronicling a sordid verisimilitude. In 'Read my Lips', however, Audiard's 'Carla and Paul' have become the French version of 'Bonnie and Clyde'.

Carla finally casts off her sexual aversions and gets down with the bad boy at film's end. She's now united with Paul in flipping the bird at respectable society (remember Audiard feels that Carla is justified in her rebellion as the so-called 'respectable' members of society are the very people who made fun of her in the office because of her disability). Despite committing a crime, Audiard doesn't see this as such as bad thing, since after all, the victims here are much more unsavory than Carla and Paul (but do Carla and Paul really come off as completely untainted? I do seem to recall that Marchand's wife is unfairly used by Carla in this scheme, and is left at scene of the crime to face the wrath of either a betrayed husband or his vengeful partners in crime. Not very noble of either one of them!).

For those who don't understand why the parole officer appears in this film, I believe I can explain it. For Director Audiard, Paul's Parole Officer is the key to explaining the film's theme. All along, we're led to believe that the Parole Officer represents the good part of society—he's more like a social worker trying to help Paul (unlike the unmentionables who made fun of Carla back at the office). But when Paul and Carla 'run into' Paul at the film's climax, it's the Parole Office who is being led away by the police for killing his wife (in an apparent mercy killing). So now the ultimate symbol of the law abiding citizenry is an apparent murderer and the amoral protagonists (lonely heart Carla transformed into bad girl who joins already bad boy Paul) are actually charming waifs who have committed a wholly justifiable robbery.

One can only conclude that 'Read My Lips' ultimately devolves into a 'feel good' fairy tale of amoral criminals, whom Director Audiard clearly wants us to root for. You might be bewitched by Carla's transformation or the mechanics of Paul's heist scheme, but ultimately there's nothing admirable about the protagonists' sordid machinations.
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Not so keen with it.
Rui Pinheiro26 March 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I watched it back in 2005.

I wrote a review in Portuguese at that time, that I translate here to English. Note that I'm Deaf, so I have my perspective biased toward how Deaf people feel when seeing somewhat "fake-deaf" movies.

Interpretation was not that though. Of course I wouldn't do better, but the movie lacks a lot of how a Deaf person really feels the world. Some parts of the movie where created just to "illustrate" but they don't correspond to the reality. As an example: the hearing aids have a power off button, so there is no need to constantly remove them from the ears! I think that doing things clearly wrong just to have someone understand something is not the good way of doing things.

After half the movie watched, I started feeling that the pseudo-deafness of the actress, incredibly put in a job where what you most see is she participating in meetings and answering phone calls (LOL! You probably would never see a real Deaf working in such a job) was just a pretext to justify the lip reading capacity. I'm Deaf for almost 30 years, I do (I'm forced to, anyway) a lot of lip reading every day and I can assure you that it's not possible to read lips the way she does in the movie (at very long distances and in very bad conditions). There are highly trained men (e.g. in intelligence services) that are able to do something like that, but not that easy.

Other wrong thing in the movie is that the actress is show to be not keen with Deaf Community. Although it is true that many deaf people is so ashamed of their condition that they reject the Deaf Community, it is also true that deaf people in these conditions are not proficient with sign language. How can someone that never signs and systematically avoids Deaf Community be so good in signing? It seemed to me like those old movies where all Asiatics know martial arts.

About the story itself, it was not that special. Someone decided that mixing a fake deaf with some nude scenes, a tattooed criminal, a mafia-like crew and some examples of discrimination and the moralized replies would make a good film, then did it.

I confess that I laugh in many parts of the movie, wondering if they did the entire makeup without even consulting a true Deaf person.

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You'll have to wait for the inevitable of course. Worth it.
John Raymond Peterson26 July 2013
Warning: Spoilers
This is a typical French drama, which means you'll have to wait for the inevitable of course; but on the other hand, if you're use to this genre, you may not expect the inevitable to occur. It does. There, I just spoiled it; you were warned. If you are a Jacques Audiard fan, as I am, you will not be disappointed. Each film directed by the man has rewarded my expectations.

Carla, played by Emmanuelle Devos, is a near totally deaf employee at a major construction and development firm where only her supervisor appears to have noticed her talent and dedication, whereas her co-workers see her with a different and biased eye. She manages with a hearing aid and by putting in more work than anyone else. Her boss recognizing this assigns her an intern, which she can pick herself. She picks Paul, an ex-convict, played by fame international star Vincent Cassel; I assumed the character of Carla was sympathetic to underdog Paul for obvious reasons, but I realized soon enough it was because he took her seriously and felt some degree of gratitude when she goes beyond what he expected and finds him accommodations on top of making sure he keeps his job. Paul has a much different outlook on life. When he notices she reads lips, he puts two and two together and sees the potential for spying on a gang of criminals who he wants to rip-off. He convinces her to do this for him and she very reluctantly obliges, having developed for him feelings, not reciprocated until the very end of the movie.

The caper does not go all that well and almost fails; were it not for Carla putting herself at risk to get Paul what he wanted, he would have not only lost his chance, but also his life. That was all that was needed for him to wake up to the love of the woman meant for him. I'm just a sucker for those kinds of movies and if you liked my synopsis, you'll like the movie.
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Paul & Carla: A Noir Love Story
Andy (film-critic)18 October 2009
After erasing my thoughts nearly twenty-seven times, there is a feeling that I can now conquer this review for the complex French drama, "Read My Lips". Having written over five hundred reviews, I have never found myself at such a loss of words as I did with director Jacques Audiard's subtle, yet inspirational love story. Thought was poured over what was loved and hated about this film, and while the "loves" overpowered, it was the elements that were hated that sparked further debate within my mind. "Read My Lips" is a drama. To be more precise, is a character driven drama which fuses social uncertainty with crime lords with the doldrums of everyday office work. Here is where this review begins to crumble, it is all of these items – but it is more…much, much more. As a viewer, you are pulled in instantly by Emmanuelle Devos' portrayal of this fragile woman named Carla, whose strength is lost to the males in her office as well as her hearing difficulty. Audiard introduces us harshly to her world by removing sound from the screen whenever she is not wearing her aid, causing an immediate unrest, not only from the characters within the film, but to those watching. Without sound, the world is left open to any possibility, and that is frightening.

As we watch this difficult and unsettling woman setting into her life, we are then uprooted and given the opportunity to meet Paul (played exquisitely by Vincent Cassel), a slicked-back hair, mustache-wearing lanky man who was just released from prison, homeless, jobless, and forced by his parole officer to get a job. This is how Carla and Paul meet. There is that moment of instant, unsettling attraction. The one where we think she loves him, but he is dark (and here is where it gets even more fun) – and where we think he loves her, but she is dark. The constant role reversal creates the tone of the unknown. Who, as viewers, are we to feel the most sympathy for? Paul sleeps in the office, Carla helps him; Carla looses a contract to a rival co-worker, Paul helps her; Carla's ability to read people's lips comes in handy for a make-shift idea for Paul. The continual jumps back and forth keep you on your chair, waiting for the possibility of some light to shine through this dark cave. It never does. Audiard cannot just allow this story to take place, he continually introduces us to more characters; one just as seedy as the next. Even our rock, our solid foundation with the parole officer is in question when his wife goes missing – a subplot to this film that at first angered me, but upon further debate was a staple finale for this film. Yet none of this could have happened if it weren't for our characters. Devos' solemn and homely look is breathtaking, as she changes her image for Paul; the truth of her beauty is discovered. Paul, the wildcard in the film, continues to seemingly use and abuse the friendship for his final endgame. Then, just as we assume one, Carla takes on one last shape.

Audiard knows he has amazing actors capturing his characters. Cassel and Devos could just play cards the entire time and I would still be sitting at the end of my chair. The story, probably the weakest part of this film, is at first random. The interwoven stories seem unconnected at first, but Audiard lets them connect bit by bit. Again, the entire parole officer segment was tangent, but that final scene just solidified the ends to the means. Not attempting to sound vague, but this complex (yet utterly simple) story is difficult to explain. There is plenty happening, but it is up to you to connect the pieces. A favorite scene is when Carla is attempting to discover where some money is being held. That use of sound and scene was brilliant. It was tense, it was dramatic, and it was like watching a who-dun-it mystery unfold before your eyes.

Overall, I initially though this was a mediocre French film that I could easily forget about when it was over – I was proved wrong. "Read My Lips" opens the floor for discussion, not just with the characters, but the situations. One will find themselves rooting for Carla in one scene, and Paul in the next. When a discovery is made in Paul's apartment by Carla, I found myself deeply angry. Audiard brought true emotion to the screen with his characters and development, and what he was lacking in plot – the actors were able to carry. I can easily suggest this film to anyone, but be prepared; this isn't a one time viewing film. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Grade: **** out of *****
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Prelude to a heist film
Tesarta15 November 2003
The film is very good, although the subtitles leave a little to be desired (mainly by skipping lines occasionally). The acting is quite good and the characters are consistent and compelling. Although the actress playing the deaf woman speaks too clearly to portray the character as deaf as she is said to be, she pulls off the role well enough. A small deus ex machina at the end is offset by an odd side story that doesn't make any sense until the final scenes. Although this is a French film with a non-Hollywood sense of pacing and camerawork, it should appeal even to those who don't like French film.
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Who hasn't wished one had the chance to get even at a workmate?
isaias adames30 August 2003
Somebody wrote here that these actors wouldn't have been chosen by american standards. And who cares about Hollywood standards when films like Kangaroo Jack and Old School come out of it?

I am sick of movies playing with the intelligence of the viewer. Who says that I need to see something stupid to be entertained? European, Chinese, Iranian cinemas are the answer to that.

Sur mes levres is a very entertaining film but also challenges the mind. I found it very clever, fair paced and very rewarding. It was hard to guess what was coming next. And also it's a good study of human nature. We are never completely bad nor completely good. It just depends on the situation. We could see that when Carla demanded Paul to help her revenge on her workmate, it wasn't him who suggested it but her. So I don't think that he influenced her, it was just something she had inside her. The situations were all so real, I am sure that everyone who works in an office has felt what she felt. And who didn't wish to have the chance to get even at a workmate?
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An Olympian start ... but a Pedestrian finish
TimeForLime28 July 2003
Warning: Spoilers
***** SPOILERS ******

With 32 reviews at 7/20/2003 and growing, there is little to add. My sad report is that this film falls apart after the the 70% mark. It is great in the main, but NOT great all the way through.

Its pluses are good energy, sound shaping, camera and lighting, and until the proverbial shark-jump, terrific editing and direction. A very interesting choice of protagonists: imagine a THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR or a BONNIE & CLYDE without pretty people.

But then when the stage is all set for Paul to rip-off Marchand drug money (?) at a questionable dance club, under the general advice and guidance of the more intelligent lip-reading Carla, one editing mistake follows on the heels of another. The gangster scenes are tedious and clumsy and the plot itself wallows in indecision.

One reviewer asks about a sub-text: Paul's parole officer's wife goes missing early in the film. Is this a distraction? Why do we care? I found it, yes, distracting, but clearly it was a signal in case we didn't get the film's point from other cues.

For a cautious woman like Carla to venture out, to "walk on the wild side", to "cross the line", turns out not to be such a moral leap after all. Because the parole officer -- the epitome of legality and moral rectitude, turned out to be a greater criminal even than the ex-felon that he was charged with supervising. A profound counter-point it certainly was not!

For those who have seen it and want a one sentence plot analogy, this film could be compared, loosely, to the Heather Graham/Luke Wilson misfire, COMMITTED (2000).

Thrill to the best parts, snack and chat through the laborious ending. French cinema is still as inventive and courageous as ever.
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French noir
ellkew21 June 2003
As usual the French are ploughing ahead with the most interesting films. The lead actress is superb and I enjoyed the way Audiard visualised her deafness by focusing in on small details and vignetting the picture severely. It was a beautiful film to watch and their relationship though initially perhaps unbelievable grew in the mind to the point where it was inevitable. I enjoyed the office scenes and the mundanity of it which is so often overlooked in (American) films or diffused with poor humour. By the end of the film we know Carla very well, such is the strength of the script and director. A complicated character I enjoyed spending time with performed by a great actress Emmanuelle Devos. Cassel was great as he always is.
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Character-fulled film noir
Philby-36 April 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Read My Lips (Spoiler)

A critic described the storyline of this movie as an existential version of Bonnie and Clyne - the protagonists are off the rails but without the bravado. Carla (Emmanuelle Devos) would not have been the first frumpish doormat to have become involved with a younger man of dubious character and them done something out of character herself, but we get a full understanding of why it has happened. We also get a fair amount of suspense and plenty of film noir atmosphere in some less desirable parts of Paris.

Emmanuelle Devos' performance as the hearing-impaired Carla is quite awesome- every close-up is made to count and her range of expressions is immense. She is helped a great deal by the sound-track which often allows us to `hear' things from her point of view. Vincent Cassel as Paul, the ex-con she almost perversely hires as an office assistant who becomes her partner in crime, puts in a very solid performance. Paul is not overbright but also quite quick-thinking on occasion. In fact he's a lot more at home behind a bar than in an office. Vincent Cassel has wary self-confidence down pat - you know this guy is trouble.

I didn't get the point about the sub-plot involving Paul's probation officer and his missing wife - it didn't seem to add anything to the story. The atmosphere in Carla's office was very authentic, as was her treatment as the office doormat. Happily, she gets a modicum of revenge on some of the bastards.

This raises the central question of a movie like this: are the protagonists worthy of our sympathy? Their heist seems to be stealing money off some bad guys (drugs maybe). Carla is certainly not violent and Paul gets more than he gives. Are we entitled to a happy ending? We get one, but at least two crooks get killed. I'm not sure, but this is the best character-driven thriller I've seen for a long time.
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A Thoroughly Engaging High-Stakes Thriller
Howard Schumann7 October 2002
Read My Lips, directed by Jacques Audiard from a screenplay by Mr. Audiard and Tonino Benacquista, is a film that works on many levels: as a black comedy, a heart-pounding thriller, a psychological drama, and simply as a thoroughly engaging movie. Emmanuelle Devos (winner of last years Cesar Award for Best Actress) turns in a brilliant performance as Carla, a hearing impaired, emotionally reserved office assistant for a property development company.

Ms. Devos is wonderfully assisted by Vincent Cassel who is near perfect in the role of Paul Angeli, a surly, dim-witted thief just out of prison for armed robbery. Feeling unappreciated by her overbearing male colleagues, Carla hires Paul as her assistant, although she knows or suspects that he is unqualified for the job. Audiard describes the theme of the film as: "An unattractive, intelligent woman meets a handsome, stupid man. Separately, they are nothing, they are outsiders; together, they are powerful."

The director conveys Carla's experience with sound by making the volume loud and clear when her hearing aid is in, and muffled when it's not. Carla uses her ability to read lips to "listen" to others conversations and her hearing device to turn off sound she does not want to hear. Carla's deafness, however, is just one facet of her character and Audiard does not use it to pluck our heartstrings.

Paul soon learns that he owes a debt to a violent nightclub owner, Marchand (Olivier Gourmet) and makes a deal with him where, in lieu of payment, he will work behind the bar in his sleazy nightclub. Both "outsiders" in society, Carla and Paul slowly develop a bond and a barely understood dependency on each other and become a very efficient team in dealing with dangerous opponents. She persuades Paul to steal some papers from a male co-worker who has usurped one of her projects. Paul, in turn, plans to rob Marchand (who is planning a major heist) and uses Carla's skill at lip reading to spy on him from a rooftop across the street. The results are both startling and unpredictable.

Read My Lips is a "noir-ish" high-stakes thriller with plots and sub-plots, passion and double-cross, and multiple twists and turns that leave the viewer breathless. There are no caricatures at play here. The strength of the film lies in the beautifully drawn characters whose lives become more deeply interwoven with every challenge. Read My Lips can be a wild ride but I think you'll very much like where it takes you.
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Read between the lines
crypticcrytic30 July 2002
Put yourself into Carla's shoes. She is an overworked, unappreciated administrative drudge who is invisible. You know her: she's trained three of her last three bosses, knows where all of the bodies are buried and might even look back at you in the mirror when you brush your teeth. Always having time for another thankless task and does it better than most despite a serious disability, she has the desk on the way to the restroom that becomes the repository of half-finished cups of coffee begging to be spilled. What? You don't want to hear it? Well, she can't and neither can you until your hearing aid is in place. Prepare to experience life from the perspective of the hearing impaired.

Carla (Emmanuelle Devos) needs a change in her life. Work is leading nowhere; friends are relying on her to meet their domestic needs and the only way out starts with a collapse that goes virtually unnoticed. She won't take a vacation - a contract is going critical - so the only alternative is to hire an assistant. Carla submits requirements that convey her real needs: a 'well-groomed' man. This brings an applicant for approval that reminds us that we should be careful with our wishes.

Paul (Vincent Cassell) does everything wrong from the start of his job interview and his getting hired clearly demonstrates Carla's interest in his non-job-related qualities. She sees potential in this former thief and as the story unfolds, their relationship grows in a very unusual pattern of co-dependence.

Paul has a difficult transition returning to the world outside of prison walls and finds himself in another sort of prison: one of the office variety and another of indentured servitude to pay off an old debt. His skills as a thief help Carla win a political battle in the office. But Paul sees a grander opportunity with Carla's skill in lip reading and draws her even further into a world of intrigue.

This is a brutal film noir unrated and probably suitable for older teens. Carla grows more powerful, professionally as well as personally, as the story progresses and her disability gives her clear advantages over the rest of us. She grows as a woman discovering her sensual side while she uses her resources to overcome the obstacles of competing in a man's world.

The two main characters are meant for each other, in a strange way. Without Paul, Carla will remain in her role of a doormat. She has our sympathy, hopes and best wishes even if she doesn't make the best decisions along the way.

You will hear the world through Carla's ears, from awkward adjustments of your hearing aid, muffled sounds, all but inaudible without it to relatively distinct voices when you can see who's talking. With one major sense disabled, we see Carla's heightened intuitive power to compensate. And we can all use that sense to hear not only what people say, but also what they really mean.
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Superb thriller.
dwblurb18 June 2002
Surely one the French films of the decade so far, a taut, atmospheric thriller making full use of the lead characters hearing impediment to use sound in a way rarely explored in cinema. Emannuelle Devos gives a truly stunning , multi-faceted performance, at times devious and manipulative, at other times open and vulnerable. Another reason why those who appreciate quality cinema should keep their eyes open for offerings from France.
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Very Good
kevin c4 June 2002
The French seem to consistently adapt film noir to contemporary film-making and this is one of the best.

Audiard is back on form. The two leads are excellent (is Cassell ever bad?). You have the sense of their desperation, and desire to better and/or excite their lives.

This film will be remade in Hollywood with 101 twists, and will be lame.
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