The central goal of a classic whodunit is to unravel how a crime was committed. Love Crime turns that convention around—halfway through it shows exactly how a crime was committed, and then leaves the audience to figure out why it was committed in such a strange and specific way. It’s an experiment in narrative that, while not entirely successful, still makes for a captivating story.
Love Crime’s first half is a different sort of picture altogether. It focuses on the rivalry between Isabelle (Ludivine Sagnier), a beautiful new executive, and Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas), her manipulative boss. This plays out not just through office politics but in their love lives as well. Both Sagnier and Thomas do the best they can with this material but it’s mostly cliched and overwrought. It also drags on for a very long time; the film wants to set up a number of key relationships, but that doesn’t make this first half any more interesting to sit through.
Then the picture turns on a dime and we’re suddenly watching characters try to solve a murder mystery. The audience is shown what exactly happens, but why this is done is pieced together slowly through the rest of the picture. Suddenly the picture finds its footing while also deconstructing some of its earlier scenes. The mystery half of the picture is tight and well-directed, so devoid of much of the first half’s ridiculousness that it almost feels like a different film entirely.
Unfortunately the crime itself and the machinations used to cover it up are pretty insane. There’s a sort of Rube Goldberg-esque charm to how it’s constructed, but that doesn’t hide the fact that it’s done in seemingly as difficult a way as possible. This stretches the film’s plausibility to the breaking point as much as the office politics of the first half do. In both cases Love Crimes never seems to exist in the real world, instead lying in a strange fantasy in which characters can act in such inhuman ways and a murder requires the most needlessly circuitous method possible in order to frame someone else for it.
As a genre deconstruction, Love Crime is interesting enough, and the Psycho-style bifurcated plot technique still has power. But the film’s cold and mechanical way of viewing the world, whether it comes to camera angles or characters, makes it unmemorable and bland. Alain Corneau’s complete control over the picture overwhelms it, creating a stuffy world in which people and feelings are completely excised in favor of precision. There are definitely enough ideas in it to create a good picture, but a complete lack of empathy leaves Love Crime as just an exercise.