The Page Turner (2006)
Written and Directed by Denis Dercourt
Starring Catherine Frot, Deborah Francois, Pascal Greggory, Antoine Martynciow

Childhood traumas affect everyone in their later years, and people cope with these past incidents of hurt and shame in different ways. Kids who are abused or molested have a greater propensity to become abusive when adults; kids who get picked on or shamed regularly can either become dangerously withdrawn or sociopathic as they age. There’s no clear-cut rules for how something will damage or alter someone’s psyche but we assume that the greater the trauma the more violent and uncontrollable the reaction. So can a young girl working towards a future as a pianist have her world thrown off balance by being distracted during a test by the rude and careless behavior of a judge? Denis Dercourt invests his entire tale of vengeance on this premise.

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The precocious Melanie (Deborah Francois) has grown up, leaving her dreams of a life in music behind. Landing a temporary position in a prestigious law-firm she overhears that one of the lawyers is looking for an au pair to watch his son over the summer out in the countryside. This bold young woman offers her services and after a moment’s hesitation Jean (Pascal Greggory) accepts. All tied up, nice and pretty, until his wife Ariane (Catherine Frot) and son Tristan (Antoine Martynciow) arrive to collect her from the train depot. This is no twist of fate, only the most calculating person could have effortlessly installed herself in the home of the woman who ruined her childhood aspirations.

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There’s no recognition. Melanie is driven to the house and given a tour of the grand estate. Walking the lawn with Jean she is told that his wife was recently in a car accident and that nerves have exacerbated Ariane’s stage-fright. At all costs Melanie must keep her from becoming stressed by keeping Tristan occupied. This seems simple as the boy, already an advanced student, is following in his mother’s footsteps for a musical career. Melanie’s days quickly fall into a routine of cooking, babysitting and tidying. Yet she always finds time to sit in on rehearsals when the violinist and cellist visit.

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At practice one afternoon, during a particularly challenging piece, Ariane is having trouble keeping up with the music. Melanie recognizes that she’s losing her place when turning the page and begins to accommodate, sitting beside her employer and keeping up with the musicians. Ariane is relieved, having had difficulties with page turners in the past and currently bereft of such help. She implores Melanie to sit with her for an upcoming radio performance, despite the misgivings of her accompanists. But Melanie performs excellently, not only during the taping but behind the scenes, offering Ariane an anchor to cling to as she fights to maintain her composure.

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So the trap has been set. Melanie has become an integral part of Ariane’s life just as the older woman finds herself vulnerable. As the summer wears on she spends more time with the pianist than watching her charge, although she finds time to push him harder and harder in his own lessons. With Jean going away for a week and the summer drawing to a close Melanie knows she must act, but is it vengeance or adoration that she must act upon?

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The Page Turner (La Tourneuse de Pages) has pretensions above its station in the world of successful psychological thrillers. Movies can slowly simmer to a boil or quietly crawl without filling the theater with a chorus of snoring but it takes a solid story, engaging characters and a sure hand at the helm to pull off this difficult feat. Unfortunately this fails on all three counts and what we’re left with is a nice looking movie wrapped around an empty package. The story is too incredible to believe but the film takes itself so seriously the audience depends on credibility. I’m sorry but a girl getting shafted in her recital holding a sociopathic grudge is thin and the roll of the dice which finds her living in the country estate of her sworn enemy must have been blessed. This weak beginning builds into a weak tension where everyone is left waiting for the shit to hit the fan with no real reason to wait patiently. When the shit hits it’s even more preposterous than what we started with in the first place.

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The cast tries their very best to offset the story’s problems but miracles are not within reach. Catherine Frot expertly portrays a haughty upper-class woman who secretly can hardly keep her hands from shaking as she plays; the agony can be clearly read in her eyes. Pascal Greggory is fine as the loving and concerned husband, but his screen-time is so minimal that he has little else to do. Antoine Martynciow is quite good for a child actor, skipping over the gooey cuteness and playing the part of a well-groomed young gentleman who seriously pursues his piano lessons but still likes to cut loose for a good game of hide and seek. Deborah Francois, handling the lion’s share of the work, slinks through the scenes like a somnambulist. She constantly affects the mannerisms of someone suffering from mild possession, slowly shuffling after her master’s instructions, but periodically betrays the inner malice with a frozen stare, slight tensing of her lips, and catching some good lighting. I don’t think she’s a bad actress, I think she was given a bad role where her shining moment involves having her breasts manhandled.

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The movie looks nice in that sterile fashion magazine way that makes the rich seem even more contemptible and distant. There’s a couple standout shots, particularly of a basement corridor and the adjoining pool. The elegance of the house itself is something to behold, as are sequences of concert halls. The shooting of the musicians would vary between attempting to convey some vague connection between the two leading actresses which just became frustrating and shots of the musicians playing which were very good. Unfortunately I came to look forward to the playing more than any developments which might lay in store. Those developments were often along the lines of, did Melanie really bring a tennis outfit in her half-empty travel bag?

As nice as the music is the playing is few and far between. The movie doesn’t require any special effects visually or aurally so I can’t really comment on anything like that. Revenge thrillers can be cheap and dirty or masterfully crafted and challenging but this is neither. It’s too stupid for pompous intellectuals and there’s no violence or laughs for gorehounds.

Tartan Video offers a clean anamorphic transfer with literate subtitles and clean audio. It’s widely available for the Netflix generation, but I would wait until you’re stuck on a plane before bothering. I will admit that it’s better than listening to the guy from Fort Worth sitting next to you talk from St. Louis to Madison.

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