READ MY LIPS is a slow-moving French thriller that explores the connections between society, compulsion and crime. As such, it is not altogether satisfying, despite some excellent character depictions and performances.
The movie’s opening sequence introduces us to a harried young secretary at a real estate firm, Carla, who is partially deaf and uses a hearing aid. Carla sits at her desk handling lots of phone calls. She goes to the lunchroom in the building and looks longingly at a couple holding hands while the salesmen at her office ignore her. Going back to her desk, she finds someone has spilled coffee all over her papers. Her boss summons her into his office, but she faints before she gets there. When her boss asks her if she needs an assistant, she assumes that she might be fired.
Carla goes to an employment office and tries to turn the quest for an assistant into a quest for a man to love her. The first man who shows up turns out to be a scruffy ex-con, Paul, who knows nothing about working in an office. She hires him anyway and teaches him the ropes. In one scene, he thinks all she wants is sex, but she rebukes his crude advances.
Weeks go by. Carla and Paul grow closer at the office. They seem to work well together. Paul learns that Carla can read lips. Her ability helps her to know the bad things that the salesmen say behind her back.
One day, one of the more nasty salesman cheats Carla out of a commission on a project she’s been handling, so she forces Paul to steal a file from him to help her take the project back. Shortly after that incident, Carla sees a thug beat up Paul in the company restroom. The owner of an underworld nightclub has bought the big loan that Paul got three years ago from a loan shark and now wants his money. The owner forces Paul to work as a bartender to pay off the debt, which means that Paul must leave Carla’s company.
These events devastate the lonely Carla, who still has not taken advantage of her relationship with Paul to fulfill her romantic longings. Paul, however, comes to her with a scheme to rip off his boss. Carla agrees, but only if Paul returns to her company. They work out an arrangement where Paul can work shorter hours at Carla’s company and still work off his loan at the nightclub. Carla starts to spy on Paul’s boss, who is setting up a bank robbery. From a nearby rooftop, Carla reads lips during the meetings for the robbery. Meanwhile, Paul surreptitiously makes a key of the apartment above the club where the meetings are held. Paul and Carla’s plan to steal the robbery money leads to dangerous complications.
As the tagline to this movie proclaims, Carla teaches Paul good manners, and Paul teaches Carla bad ones. Both seem to get a unique thrill from helping each other in the other’s world. At one point, Paul has to rescue Carla from a would-be rapist in the nightclub parking lot after Carla spends evenings there before she spies on his boss from the rooftop. At another point, Carla has to rescue Paul from the restaurant owner and his gang of bank robbers. Though these plot twists offer some thrills, the movie takes such a long time to get to the chase that many viewers might tune out in the middle. Emmanuelle Devos and Vincent Cassel give excellent performances, however, as Carla and Paul. In fact, Devos earned the French equivalent of the Oscar for her efforts.
Ultimately, READ MY LIPS suggests that the society around them is to blame for Carla and Paul’s isolation and criminal, unethical behavior. The ending strongly suggests that Paul and Carla will get away with their victories over the corporate structures that engulf them and finally consummate their growing love. Thus, once again, the individual overcomes the social forces that imprison him, through romantic love and personal guile.
READ MY LIPS also contains plenty of strong foul language.
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(RoRo, LLL, VV, S, N, A, D, MM) Romantic worldview where romantic love and personal guile help the individual overcome stifling social forces; 42 mostly strong obscenities and one strong profanity; medium violence such as thug from loan shark beats up man, attempted rape is foiled, thugs beat up man trying to extort money from real estate firm, irate salesman has to be pulled off woman who won victory over him in a game of office politics, thugs beat up man to get confession from him about stolen money, gunshots heard off-screen after sounds of fighting and dead bodies shown from afar, thug takes knife to kill thug in another room, and lonely man puts plastic bag over his head and screams; attempted rape foiled, talk of adultery and sex, man paws woman but she rejects his crude advances, and unmarried couple starts to make love in movie's last shots; upper male nudity, shots of woman in bra, shots of woman's belly, and woman looks at her nude figure in foggy mirror but no private parts shown; alcohol use; smoking; and, much lying, stealing, real estate extortion, office politics, protagonists plan to steak crooks' money, and loan shark threatens man.