“Notice how she watches you?”
The Page Turner (La Tourneuse de Pages) is a subtle, elegant French thriller–composed, controlled, and unsettling. If I described the film as a revenge tale, I’d give entirely the wrong impression of this gem. And while it is, basically, a tale of revenge, it’s all conducted so coldly, so calculatingly, so bloodlessly, that it is perfect.
The Page Turner begins with its focus on 10 year-old Melanie Prouvost, the daughter of a butcher, who’s steeling herself for an upcoming examination that will determine whether or not she’s accepted into a prestigious music conservatory. Melanie is a subdued child–far too controlled and focused on her upcoming piano performance in front of a team of judges who will determine her fate.
The day of the examination arrives, and Melanie performs in front of the judges. She’s not doing particularly well, when one of the judges, concert pianist Araine Fouchecourt (Catherine Frot) signals someone to enter the room for an autograph. Melanie is already severely stressed and this incident distracts her further. She bungles her performance, and any hope that Melanie had of a music career is gone. She sheds a few tears, closes her piano, and that’s that.
Years later, a perfectly groomed Melanie (Deborah Francois) applies for a clerical position at a prestigious Parisian law firm. She lands the job, and quickly impresses her workmates. Before long, she’s insinuated herself into the home of her employer, Jean Fouchecourt (Pascal Greggory). He introduces Melanie to his wife, and it’s none other than Ariane, the concert pianist from Melanie’s childhood. Of course, Ariane doesn’t recognize Melanie, and Ariane has problems of her own; she survived a car accident that left her nervous and mentally fragile….
Just what Melanie’s game here is the substance of The Page Turner. We are never privy to Melanie’s innermost thoughts, and most of the action is left open to interpretation. Worming her way into the Fouchecourt home seems to be part of a calculated plan, but Melanie doesn’t really do anything to the perfect lives of the Fouchecourts. She’s just a mirror of the family’s frailties, and they slowly destroy themselves when faced with Melanie’s reflective presence.
Class and privilege have a role in the film too. After all, if Melanie had won the position at the music conservatory, she would, in adulthood, possibly occupy a position in society similar to Ariane’s. It does not escape the viewer that these two women are, rather eerily, physically very similar. But in adulthood, Melanie now has the nerves of steel that Ariane once had, and Ariane is a quivering mess–especially in front of an audience. Melanie fits so perfectly into the Fouchecourt home–as if she always belonged there, but that one moment in her childhood removed the possibility of wealth, prestige, and fame from her forever.
Also open to interpretation is the level of Melanie’s acknowledgment of her own imperfections. She was already stumbling in her performance at the conservatory when Ariane created a distraction. Did Ariane create the distraction because she knew that Melanie’s recital was a failure? Or does Melanie imagine that she was doing well until Ariane signaled the autograph hunter? In other words, how honest is Melanie with herself? We will never know, and this is what makes this film so very intriguing. Directed by Denis Dercourt, the marvelous film is in French with English subtitles.