The Page Turner
Imagine a vintage Chabrol thriller set in the rarefied world of classical music and you’ll have a sense of this cleverly understated revenge drama from French writer-director Denis Dercourt, who is himself a professional musician.
It begins with a ten-year-old girl Melanie, a butcher’s daughter, diligently practising for a crucial audition at a musical conservatory. But on the day of the entrance exam, the thoughtless behaviour of one of the judges, a famous concert pianist named Ariane (Catherine Frot), causes her to fail the audition and give up playing. Cut to ten years later and Melanie (superbly played by teenage Belgian actress Deborah François from The Child) has become an eerily self-possessed young woman, who insinuates herself into the household of the married Ariane. And the latter, needy and self-absorbed, is quite oblivious to the real reasons for her new employee’s scrupulous attentiveness.
The principal location in The Page Turner is the imposing country mansion inhabited by Ariane and her lawyer husband Jean (Pascal Greggory) and their young son, and it proves a choice setting for this sinister story of class envy and simmering sexual desires. With her scraped-back blonde hair, impassive demeanour and flat shoes, François passes through the deserted corridors like a modern-day version of Hitchcock’s Mrs Danvers from Rebecca, materialising in rooms without warning. Quickly the servant becomes indispensable to the highly-strung mistress, who gives Melanie the crucial role of being the page-turner at her recitals, and who finds herself falling for the youngster.
Making skilful use of the different spaces, rooms and levels within the house and garden, including an underground swimming pool, Dercourt also understands the impact of one strategically placed piece of violence. And when the filmmaker delivers the psychologically satisfying coup de grace, it’s all the more memorable because it doesn’t involve bloodshed.