A downtrodden, near-deaf office clerk and a not-too-bright ex-con join forces to beat the system, but that's not the half of this sly, quietly sexy French crime thriller. Shy, awkward Carla Bhem (Emmanuelle Devos), whose bulky hearing aids are self-consciously hidden beneath her glossy but unkempt hair, is underappreciated and exploited at work and home. Her "best friend," Annie (Olivia Bonamy), assumes Carla will baby sit or give up her apartment at a moment's notice so Annie can tryst with her boyfriend, while most of Carla's coworkers at a nondescript property developer's office simply take her for granted. The exception, her sleazy coworker Keller (Pierre Diot), actively cheats her out of credit for her work. Carla does manage to get the go-ahead to hire an assistant, and chooses Paul Angeli (Vincent Cassel), a rough-hewn hunk who's fresh out of jail and thoroughly unqualified for office work. Carla shows him the ropes, covers when his parole officer (Olivier Perrier) stops by and he's not in, and even finds Paul a place to live, rejecting the coarse advances he imagines are what she expects. Carla instead persuades Paul to steal a crucial file from Keller, then uses it to thoroughly discredit her tormentor. Intoxicated by this taste of righteous payback, Carla is dismayed when Paul leaves the office to tend bar at a dive called Le Rubis, whose owner, small-time crook Marchand (Olivier Gourmet), is forcing him to pay off an old debt. Marchand, in turn, is doing business with the very scary Carambo brothers (David Saracino, Christophe Vandevelde), and after a couple of days on the job Paul sees an opportunity to make a new start by ripping off Marchand. But now he's the one who needs help: Carla reads lips, and the roof of the club provides a clear view into Marchand's apartment. If Carla can tell him what Marchand is saying, Paul will know when to rob the place. Bound together by mutual need and an undercurrent of simmering desire, the odd couple dive headfirst into some very murky waters. Hailed as a clever exercise in neo-Hitchcockianism, this very satisfying crime picture is more accurately Chabrolian. Director-cowriter Jacques Audriard is less wrapped up in icily formal plotting, dreamlike desire and voyeuristic imagery than a coolly inquisitive examination of the characters' tangled motives and desires, which are consistent and oddly reasonable, however twisted. Cassel is effective as hard-luck case Paul, but Devos is extraordinary: Carla's incremental blossoming is poignant and alarming — you're never quite sure what she might do next.
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