Read my Lips is a unique and stunningly original French film directed by Jacques Audiard who directed A Prophet and who is now one of my favourite directors. This film is very original and I was surprised to see that not one of my friends here on RT had rated it.
POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD....
The film begins with Karla inserting her hearing aids to allow her to hear enough to carry out her job. She works in an office job for an Architectural firm, her job isn't going anywhere and she is bullied and mocked by her co-workers, she is very lonely.
She asks for an assistant to aid her in her work, but also so she can get to know someone new.
Her assistant is named Paul Angelie and they get on well together despite both of them being very awkward. Paul tells her he has just been released from prison and is attempting to start over. Karla wishes to help him and so lets him stay in an apartment under construction by the firm. A romance gradually builds between the two even if Karla is very timid, she is obviously in love with Paul.
When Paul is threatened by some thugs he owes money to he is forced to give up his job with Karla and work in the nightclub owned by the mobster he owes money to.
He soon catches on to the fact that the mobster is planning a big heist and starts to formulate a plan to steal the money from right under the nose of the mobster. His plan is changed dramatically when he learns that Karla (who misses him and barely ever sees him) can read lips, she learnt this skill when she was younger and entirely deaf over time her hearing had healed enough for her to hear but she had kept the skill of lip-reading. Paul then uses her to watch the boss's apartment and record the conversations held within so he can know when the money arrives. Karla accepts on the condition that Paul come back and work with her at her office during the day. Paul accepts thus beginning a hectic lifestyle for the two that has them working all day at the office and watching the apartment all night.
When the money finally does arrive things are complicated even more and after various twists and turns a surprising conclusion is reached.
The direction by Audiard was stunningly original and inventive. He used many of the same techniques that he would use in his latest film A Prophet such as the shots of complete darkness with only a small circle of light illuminating what is taking place in the film. I also liked his use of extreme close ups was very inventive, instead of useing them in moments of calm he employed them during very tense action scenes , it was a risky choice but he achieved his purpose very well and it creates an incredible effect, it really adds to the tension of the scenes.
The acting was amazing by the two leads, Emanuelle Devos as Karla and Vincent Cassel as Paul. The rest of the cast did a good job but nothing spectacular apart from Paul's case officer, he was very good. As good as the supporting cast was they were completely eclipsed by Cassel and Devos, they both bring their characters to life in such a way that it's impossible not to like them. Without such great actors this film would have been much less as a whole even with the excellent direction.
The characters were the best thing about this film, they were so well written and so well acted that it was a pleasure watching them interact. The transformation of Karla is extraordinary, in the beginning of the film she was depressed, lonely, meek and overall pretty pitiable. By the end of the film she has accomplished many things including going head to head with some ruthless mobsters, something she would never have dreamed of doing before.
Paul is a very interesting man who wishes to make his fortune by whatever means necessary and flee the country. His prison sentence has made him into a clever and cautious criminal with no scruples. He falls in love with Karla but you get the sense that if he had to flee without her and with the money he would.
The sound of this film is a much more important aspect than on other film, because of Karla's condition, Jacques Audiard uses the sound very well, it waxes and wanes as Karla adjusts her hearing aid. It is all very well thought of and I got the sense that far more attention had been paid to it than is usual in films. The music is sparse but good and complemented the films rather dark atmosphere very well.
The dialogue is in French, of course, and I strongly recommend you watch it in it's original language as the dialogue is extremely well written and just can't be translated very well. The dialogue avoids all romantic clichés with ease and is highly original and very French.
The plot was surprisingly well handled, the film starts out as a Romance, and a very interesting and watchable one at that, and seamlessly develops into a Thriller involving a large amount of money and ruthless enemies. I thought this transition was done very well and could have ended up seeming like two different films in the hands of a lesser director. I liked the fact that seemingly unimportant events and conversations that take place at the beginning of the film have repercussions later and dramatically change the story. The endings took me completely by surprise, it wasn't a complicated twist or anything just a rather unpredictable endings handled very well by the writers and the director.
Overall this is a sadly overlooked French film, that deserves much more attention as does the director who is very talented yet largely unknown.
Highly recommended to anyone looking for a clever Thriller, but also for those who ,like me, don't like the usual Romance films but something a bit more original.