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Carla Bhem (Emmanuelle Devos) has been working conscientiously as a senior secretary for a property development company for some years, yet she still isn’t respected and rewarded by the male-dominated company. But at 35 with an underwhelming physique and needing a hearing aid in both ears, her options are limited. However, when she is encouraged to get an assistant and recruits Paul (Vincent Cassel), a roguish thief fresh out of jail, she unwittingly embarks on a new course in life. So does he.

Review by Louise Keller:
A delectable and intriguing thriller filled with surprises, Read My Lips is an original. This is a story of two misfits who don’t stand a chance alone, but together they are magnificent.

When Carla meets Paul, although he is totally unsuitable for the office assistant job, she hires him, but quickly finds other ways for him to be of use. They are both needy and vulnerable, but very different. Slowly we become involved in both their lives – Carla’s frustrated and isolated life compounded by her hearing impairment, and Paul’s hopeless attempt to start a new life hindered by his past. They are both flawed, and almost unwillingly are drawn to each other – at first for what they can get out of the other. Carla is so used to being used by colleagues and even by friends; her escape is her secret fantasy life when alone with only her thoughts and surrounded by silence. Paul too lives in two worlds and suddenly together they are both working double shifts in dual lives.

It starts with a favour, but then the favour has a price and becomes an obligation. Like a see-saw, the balance of need shifts from one to the other. Writer/director Jacques Audiard’s superb script keeps us guessing at every turn, and I love the way he effectively uses sound and framing to enhance and conceal plot points at crucial times.

It’s tense, gripping and at times positively terrifying. The ever-versatile Vincent Cassel is mesmerising as the ex con with the shifty eyes that don’t miss a trick and the nerve that never lets up. Emmanuelle Devos, who won the best actress award at the 2002 Cesars, is wonderful as the multi-layered, complex mousy spinster. And together Cassel and Devos are dynamite.

The sub plot with the parole officer never really ignites, but offers an interesting diversion. The plot is really edgy and I found the premise really exciting. Read My Lips satisfies on every count, as the clever twists never stop and we are hooked. I especially like the French title – Sur Mes Levres (on my lips), which has a slightly different connotation to the English translation.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Something out of the ordinary, Read My Lips is not only a good story, it is told very well and stars two first class actors who subtly seduce us – slowly. At first, we see only the surface of these characters, but bit by bit, the inner layers are revealed. The contradictions become clear: the mousy brunette of a secretary is a stainless steel weapon in the right context. The petty crim is a gallant hero given the circumstances. But even this doesn’t do justice to the subtlety and style of the filmmakers, who manage to combine a romance with a thriller with a social study and character driven drama.

The plot isn’t flawless but it’s totally satisfying, and the craftsmanship of the crew is first class. Vincent Cassel and Emmanuelle Devos are superb, a perfectly ill-fitting twosome, whose apparent conflicts are the key to their respective needs. The attraction of the opposite is beautifully played out here, but with the enjoyable restraint that delivers the sweetest payoff.

Tension is maintained throughout, either through the action or through the characters. Delicious in many ways, Read My Lips builds up a head of steam from a deceptively humdrum start and closes with a simple scene that carries its weight in romantic gold. Read my lips: c’est bon.

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CAST: Vincent Cassel, Emmanuelle Devos, Olivier Gourmet, Olivier Perrier, Olivia Bonamy

PRODUCER: Philippe Carcassonne, Jean-Louis Livi

DIRECTOR: Jacques Audiard

SCRIPT: Jacques Audiard, Tonino Benacquista


EDITOR: Juliette Welfling

MUSIC: Alexandre Desplat

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Michel Barthélémy

RUNNING TIME: 119 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 3, 2003 (Sydney/Melbourne; other states to follow); Sneaks March 23, 29, 30, 2003

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