The Page Turner – film review
Every crime has something of the dream about it. Crimes determined to take place engender all they need: victims, circumstances, pretexts, opportunities. Paul ValĂ©ry
The Page Turner – (La Tourneuse de Pages) – is a French film (2006) written and directed by Denis Dercourt.
This is a revenge and psychological thriller of the kind that has been made by Hollywood several times and it is instructional to note the ways that national film cultures differ in their approach to the subject.
Melanie Prouvost is a talented pianist and the ten-year-old daughter of a provincial butcher. When the film opens she is getting ready for her entrance examination at the Paris Conservatory. She is, naturally, a little nervous, but she is a wilful and focussed child and expected to pass the exam easily.
But Ariane FouchĂ©court, a famous pianist and the president of the jury thoughtlessly and needlessly interrupts Melanie’s performance, so that the girl loses concentration and fails the examination. She leaves the room and the Conservatory obviously disturbed by what has happened to her.
Revenge, they say, is a dish best served cold. We next meet Melanie about ten years later. She has not touched a piano since her day at the Conservatory and is now living in Paris and, unrecognised by Ariane, is making herself indispensable in the household of the musician, where she is employed to take care of Ariane’s son, Tristan.
Melanie is an impassive girl but attractive and willing. As an audience we find her a little unnerving, suspecting that her choice of employer was no accident but having no real evidence to support these feelings.
Dercourt, the director, plays with the tension and claustrophobia of the two women, the boy, and the few additional characters who impinge on their lives.
Melanie slowly racks up her involvement with Ariane, extending their relationship into the musician’s professional as well as her domestic life. Their connection has increasingly sexual undertones.
Throughout the length of the film there is only one suddenly executed and shocking act of violence, which is not foreseen or premeditated by any of the players.
As a psychological thriller The Page Turner works on several levels. We have repression in abundance, the individual repression of Melanie, and the middle-class repressions of Ariane and her son, who are totally vulnerable to Melanie’s unconventional and malevolent expression of emotion.
The Hollywood version of this plot is almost always sensationalized, the central figure is portrayed as an undoubted psychopath and all leads inexorably to a terrible and bloody finale involving a butcher’s knife. Disaster is usually averted only by the introduction of a superior weapon to blow the Melanie figure away.
But the French version is different. Everything is enclosed in a veneer of Gallic civilization. Manners predominate. There are long silences. The smiles and acts of recognition between the main players are not always nor even necessarily hollow.
Ariane’s original offence was one of discourtesy and impoliteness. Melanie, as a ten-year-old does not have the experience to deal with this rationally. She has an emotional response and an overwhelming sense of shame. And she turns this in on herself, generating a disturbingly disproportionate response.
Both Catherine Frot (Ariane) and Deborah Francois (Melanie), are excellent. They manage to convey a sense of inner passion and chaos behind the masks of bourgeois control.
Dercourt, who is a professional musician as well as a film-maker, discovered while working on The Page Turner ‘how similar the mechanisms of suspense are to the techniques of writing music’.
In a sub-text the film underlines how the west, particularly via the administrations in Washington and London, are in the process of creating future terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq, as children of all ages watch their homes disappearing and their parents and siblings being maimed and killed for no apparent reason.