The Crime is Mine

M, 102 minutes

3 Stars

Review by © Jane Freebury

Two heads are better than one. So it goes, for two young women, an actress and a lawyer, who share an apartment together in Paris in the 1930s. It’s hard to get by in a world when the competition in their line of work is fierce and where, truth be told, merit doesn’t necessarily earn a reward.

Madeleine (Nadia Tereszkiewicz) is desperate for a decent speaking part and Pauline (Rebecca Marder) needs a good client. This could have been the story of two appealing hustlers who just had to make some adjustments to the right thing to get ahead, but actually, it isn’t.

Their pesky landlord has just been knocking on their door for the rent, now months in arrears, when Madeleine returns from an appointment with a famous theatre producer, Montferrand (a brief cameo from Jean-Christophe Bouvet), who is found murdered shortly afterwards. She is disillusioned with her lot, enough to admit she is guilty despite her innocence, and opt for prison to escape a life of penury.

Pauline won’t hear of it and concocts a defence that might, just might, persuade a jury and restore her friend’s freedom on the grounds of legitimate self defence. It will help that blonde Madeleine has the attributes of a screen sex goddess. From the snatches of jazz to the fashions to a light witty tone, this new film from Francois Ozon is, as he has acknowledged, a homage to the screwball comedies of Hollywood in the 1930s. Like those films, there is a playfulness on the surface with some underlying serious themes.

Madeleine admits her guilt, to escape a life of penury

The Crime is Mine doesn’t try to disguise the fact that it is loosely based on theatre. The play Mon Crime was written by Georges Berr and Louis Verneuil in 1934. It’s intriguing that there were at that time several real-life high-profile cases of French women put on trial then for murder. What’s also incidentally fascinating about mid-1930s France, is that women hadn’t yet been granted the right to vote, and wouldn’t achieve it until the end of WWII.

To help keep things light, Ozon has included the popular comic actor, Dany Boon, to help him out in his comedy of gender relations. As a wealthy Fernand Palmarede, Boon is opportunistic, unctuously charming but ultimately not such a bad guy even though he can’t help checking out women’s bottoms and cleavages.

It is far from unusual for writer-director Ozon, who is openly gay, to turn his attention to female characters, as he has here. His directorial profile was hugely enhanced by films such as 8 Women and Swimming Pool and he has frequently cast mature beauties of the screen like Charlotte Rampling, Catherine Deneuve, and Sophie Marceau. That said, the subjects that the prolific filmmaker has turned to throughout his career have been remarkably eclectic.

Here in The Crime is Mine, the wonderful Isabelle Huppert appears as Odette Chaumette, a character who in the original theatre play was a man. As she chews up the furniture as the wronged miscreant who must also have her due, one feels sure that Ozon had simply said ‘go for it’.

A theatrical romp at the end of which no one leaves empty-handed

Huppert is not the only actor over 65 to appear here in a significant role. Fabrice Luchini appears as the corrupt judge, and Andre Dusollier appears as the industrialist patriarch who disapproves of his son Andre (Edouard Sulpice) marrying Madeleine, a lowly actress. These and other male actors of a certain age form part of the male establishment that gets a generally bad wrap here. The Crime is Mine is another contribution to the growing number of films with something to say post #MeToo.

Over the years, Ozon’s films have often carried some sort of social commentary, with or without satiric embellishment, on issues of the day. In his recent Everything Went Fine, in which Dusollier had a key role, the themes covered assisted dying. In Frantz they included post-war xenophobia, in Under the Sand, grieving.  Ozon has a deceptively light touch, with a propensity for witty asides, though that can veer close to farce.

At the end of this theatrical romp, no one leaves empty-handed during the general tidy-up. Everyone, except for the very dead producer Montferrand, comes away with something.

First published in the Canberra Times on 14 October 2023. Jane’s reviews are also published by Rotten Tomatoes