Melodramatic thriller it may be, The Page Turner is nevertheless one constructed with considerable class.
Ten-year-old pianist Mélanie is playing in the Conservatory entrance exam for which she’s been practising for months. All is going well, her fingerwork smooth, the piece pitch-perfect. Looking up, she notices one of her examiners, Ariane Fouchécourt (Catherine Frot), a famous concert pianist, signing an autograph, completely ignoring her playing.
Her fingers falter, the notes start coming out all wrong. Finished, she gets up and, tears streaked down each cheek, walks silently out of the room to where another girl is practising. Maliciously, she flicks down the lid of the girl’s piano and it falls, only just missing her fingers.
It’s a moment that nicely sets up the rest of French director Denis Dercourt’s sly tale of revenge. Eight years later, Mélanie (Déborah François) lands an internship at the law firm run by Ariane’s husband, and from that a job as a live-in nanny for the couple’s son. She soon earns a place in the emotionally fragile Ariane’s affections, and when Ariane discovers her love for music, becomes her trusted page turner.
It seems Mélanie wants payback for Ariane’s misdoing, but how much of that childhood maliciousness is she still carrying around? Enough to harm? To kill? Or just to teach Ariane a lesson? The film keeps us constantly guessing. Maybe, indeed, we’re wrong; perhaps it’s lust that drives her.
As Mélanie, Déborah François’s icy inscrutability has you hanging on her every miniscule gesture, while Dercourt’s stripped-down direction draws your attention to the tiniest of details – tears down a face, specks of dust floating in a room or inside a car. It’s a film about the huge impact of fleeting moments and it does a deft job of imbuing significance to what normally goes unnoticed.
Artiness and high-brow classical music milieu aside though, it never quite escapes its roots in psycho nanny thrillers like The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, which often makes for fun melodramatic entertainment. As Mélanie cooks dinner, Ariane innocently asks her what her parents did; she replies with a whack of her cleaver on the perfectly skinned rabbit on the counter – ‘Butchers!’
But elsewhere the film fails to transcend the ridiculousness of its material. How does she get the nanny job so easily? How does she so effectively worm her way into Ariane’s trust? Indeed, how do all her actions seem to have the exact effect she desires, right down to the clockwork-like unfolding of the finale. Melodramatic thriller it may be then; nevertheless, it’s one constructed with considerable class.
Looks arty. Looks nasty. Looks like Haneke.
Intelligent, arresting… Hang on, isn't it all a bit ridiculous?
Sophisticated and silly.