Drained bourgeois chill is so 2001. Denis Dercourt's debut thriller The Page Turner has the ethereal calm of a "Sounds of the Ocean" mix tape and it doesn't seem the least bit interested in disrupting that tone. With its demented psychosexual ramblings and robust flourishes of music, this would-be Chabrol rip-off (without the humor and panache) has a certain charm about it, but that doesn't constitute a successful exercise necessarily.
As a young butcher's daughter, Melanie had talent at the piano. Her father would stay up and listen to her play while saving up enough money to possibly send her off to an academy that deals in gifted pianists. Her audition gets sabotaged when one of the instructors, Ariane Fouchecourt (Catherine Frot), allows an autograph hound into the recital, breaking her concentration. She goes home, locks up her piano, and puts her little Mozart statue in the closet.
Skip to a decade or so later where Melanie (Déborah François) has nabbed a high-end internship at a prestigious law firm. The head of the firm is Monsieur Fouchecourt (the great Pascal Greggory), the husband of the woman who killed-off Melanie's young aspirations. When the Monsieur is in need of a housekeeper to help out with his wife's nervosa and his son's adolescent yearnings, Melanie jumps at the chance. Ariane takes to her immediately, hiring her as her page turner for an upcoming concert and effectively gives Melanie a control over her emotional state... which leads to disaster.
Neither a disaster nor a complete bore, The Page Turner has a placid nature to it that belies its intricate psychological ponderings. Not completely unlike Dominik Moll's Lemming, the mood and tone hold a striking clarity, but the timid mis-en-scene can't match the complexity of character and character psyche. The key difference is that Lemming unwraps and unravels like a Raymond Carver story being mulled over by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds; The Page Turner could be best described as a Mary Gaitskill throwaway with designs on Michael Haneke and Catherine Breillat.
That the story holds a lack of conflict that becomes fatally passé in the film's shaky fourth quarter. Ariane's obsessive attachment to Melanie has devious and fascinating possibilities but Dercourt barely scratches the surface of these tangled sexual yearnings. There is one obvious saving grace: Déborah François. Best known as the teen parent of the titular infant in the Dardenne brothers' L'Enfant, François gives a smashing, coiled performance that brings out the few slight thrills in Dercourt's script. As she holds the son's head under water or pierces the foot of a sexually-forward musician, she keeps her demeanor as glacially cool as the film's sterilized semblance. For a film that keeps everything, including bourgeois ethos, within the lines, she's the singular note that rings true.
Aka La Tourneuse de pages.