Like so many contemporary French movies, Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu’s film is very talky. The dialogue is so literary it seems at times almost surreal, but this works because of the intensely bourgeois world we enter. We follow Marc, a boastful and verbose literature professor – played with brio by Mathieu Amalric – whose wild eyes and erratic diction help this dark, secretive character make sense for us.
The film is also gorgeous to look at. From the opening sequence set on a treacherous stretch of road in the Alps, the movie draws you into its perverse tale with twisting, spiraling images and strange angular compositions. Cold but sensual cinematography evokes the sinister temptations and bestial instincts Marc attempts to fight off but never manages to overcome, while the icy settings (events play out in a remote private school in the mountains) prove a powerful counterpart to the hot violence and passion brewing just beneath the surface.
Sexual entanglements drive the narrative here. However, as in recent French features Number One Fan (Jeanne Herry, 2014) and Valentin Valentin (Pascal Thomas, 2015), crime makes its way into a seemingly fixed mode of light drama/comedy. These films begin as sweet and sexy French romcoms, until suddenly and almost out of nowhere a dead body appears. A well-intentioned, usually harmless person accidentally kills someone, and little by little their veil of normality slips away as they go to escalating extremes to cover up crimes.
What we are seeing is an innovative combination of French tradition with the American thriller narrative – on a bigger multiplex scale think of Anything For Her (Fred Cavayé, 2008) and Tell No One (Guillaume Canet, 2005) – and Love Is The Perfect Crime gets this blend exactly right.
As the story progresses, little appears exactly normal in Marc’s life, from the sexually loaded looks he exchanges with his students, to the odd relationship he entertains with sister Marianne (Karin Viard). But the film’s big reveal still comes as a shock. Sex, violence, perversion, romanticism and hallucinations in isolated spaces prove to be the meat of the film, calling to mind both David Lynch’s weirdness and the best American crime thrillers of the 1990s, as well as the best films of French master Claude Chabrol.
Screening at Picturehouse Cinemas for Discover Tuesdays on Tuesday 24 November.