Read My Lips
dir. Audiard
Opens Fri Aug 9
Cinema 21

Read My Lips begins as an unlikely tale of romance, and it is, although one as irregular as its participants. Carla is a homely secretary in a nightmarish office, shot effectively enough to induce the fluorescent nausea that turns everyone's skin a lurid green. She is also deaf, a disability she cherishes as a retreat. On the subway, around screaming children, she simply turns down her hearing aides and enjoys some small exception to the ordinary gripes of being underpaid, undesirable, and lonely.

Carla hires Paul, a rough crook fresh from prison, as an assistant. Obviously but timidly attracted to him, she goes out of her way to help him re-establish. In turn, she uses him as an opportunity to fulfill her own pent-up vengeance. After an initial, crude sexual misunderstanding, their relationship develops into a tense intimacy that bypasses the traditional insta-screwing between male and female romantic leads.

The film documents the elaboration of their individuality, although their evolutions are bolstered and instigated through their contacts. They are not particularly sexy people, and the erotic tensions are not exactly hot, but they still tease with a simultaneously possible and impossible eventual fulfillment.

The film develops into a thriller, with both characters engaging a game of surreptitious trade. Each possesses qualities lacking in the other. Separate, their lives are grayish and poor, but in conjunction, they advance each other's objectives. Equally far from being "just friends" as they are from lovers, the intimacy is portrayed eerily, as if the camera is eavesdropping on them as they speak in whispers behind the world's back.

The details of the plot are less interesting than the observation of these characters' relationship, which is defined to some degree by sexual failure. Against conventional standards, it fails as both romance and thriller, and in doing so surpasses and outgrows both genres. At times depressing and tedious, it requires a maturity of experience to enjoy this film. Horny youths might run from the theater, screaming "Jesus, fuck already!" But anyone with an appreciation for the complications of relationships that refuse ordinary confines will be engrossed.