Producers: Éric Altmayer and Nicolas Altmayer Director: François Ozon Screenplay: François Ozon and Philippe Piazzo Cast: Nadia Tereszkiewicz, Rebecca Marder, Isabelle Huppert, Fabrice Luchini, Dany Boon, André Dussollier, Édouard Sulpice, Régis Laspalès, Olivier Broche, Félix Lefebvre, Franck de Lapersonne, Evelyne Buyle, Michel Fau, Daniel Prévost, Myriam Boyer, Jean-Christophe Bouvet, Suzanne de Baecque, Lucia Sanchez and Jean-Claude Bolle-Reddat Distributor: Music Box Films
Prolific writer-director François Ozon refuses to be pigeonholed, moving smoothly between serious films like “Everything Went Fine” and frothy fare like this fizzing take on Georges Berr and Louis Verneuil’s vintage 1934 play, which previously inspired two Hollywood pictures, ”True Confession” (1937) with Carole Lombard and “Cross My Heart” (1946) with Betty Hutton. It’s as loose an adaptation as either of them but superior to both, and isn’t just a throwback screwball comedy, adding some cheeky feminist notes to the nutty plot as a modern sauce to the archaic plot while dressing the entire thing in elegantly over-the-top finery redolent of an earlier age—Jean Rabasse’s production design and Pascaline Chavanne’s costumes are riotously colorful, in the presumed style of the stage original recalled in the curtain that rises at the very start, and Manu Dacosse’s lustrous cinematography italicizes the artifice.)
Nadia Tereszkiewicz and Rebecca Marder star as Madeleine Verdier and Pauline Mauléon, young women sharing a flat in 1935 Paris. Madeleine is an aspiring actress and Pauline a recently-minted lawyer, but neither is bringing in any money, and they’re far behind in their rent; their landlord (Franck De Lapersonne) threatens to evict them, and their concierge (Myriam Boyer) would certainly not object.
Madeleine is despondent, even threatening suicide, because of her disappointment that a meeting with powerful producer Montferrand (Jean-Christophe Bouvet) failed to bring the offer of a big role in his new play she’d expected. Instead he suggested a minor part along with a major one as his mistress, leading her to flee in disgust and rush home, pushing past pedestrians on the way. To make matters worse, her handsome lover Bonnard (Édouard Sulpice), who’s allergic to the idea of work, arrives with the news that his father (André Dussollier) is arranging a marriage for him with a woman whose father will invest heavily in the family’s financially troubled tire company; the supposed good news is that the proposed bride is homely, and so his relationship with Madeleine can continue with her as his mistress.
The roommates’ back-and-forth is interrupted by a police investigator (Régis Laspalès) who informs them that Montferrand was found shot to death just after Madeleine left him in a huff. When he learns that money had disappeared from the producer’s mansion and discovers a gun in the girls’ flat, he proposes to the buffoonish judge Rabusset (Fabrice Luchini) that he charge Madeleine with murder, despite the misgivings of the judge’s squirrely clerk Trapu (Olivier Broche).
When Rabusset, anxious to burnish his reputation for failure, does bring the charge, Rebecca, acting as Madeleine’s lawyer, encourages her to confess to the crime, though she’s innocent. She’ll argue that Madeleine acted in self-defense when Montferrand attacked her, and a victory in court will help both their careers. The trial becomes a cause célèbre in which both women play their roles to the hilt and the misogynistic tirades of the pompous prosecutor (Michel Fau) play into their hands. The result Is a triumph for both Madeleine, who becomes an immediate sensation on stage and screen, and Rebecca, now a star advocate.
But there’s a fly in the ointment. Flamboyant has-been actress Odette Chaumette (Isabelle Huppert}—whom astute viewers will remember having glimpsed briefly in an early scene—shows up with a claim that threatens to undermine the outcome of the trial, which has proven strangely satisfactory to both sides. Only the intervention of Fernand Palmarède (Dany Boon), a wealthy architect who’d been a business partner of Montferrand’s, saves everyone’s bacon, and even Madeleine’s hoped-for marriage to the younger Bonnard.
All of this is giddy nonsense, but it’s staged with zip by Ozon and editor Laure Gardette, using old tropes like sweeps, montages of newspaper headlines and black-and-white film inserts for period effect, the visuals accompanied by a score from Philippe Rombi that misses the sinister and the bouncy with a dollop of old Hollywood schmaltz. Tereszkiewicz and Marder make a fine central pair, the former’s blonde bombshell complemented beautifully by the latter’s dark-haired practicality, and the supporting cast is replete with juicy turns from many of France’s stable of able farceurs. But among them Huppert and Luchini stand out. She’s the very model of the prima donna trapped in the past, certain that her brilliance is due for rediscovery; her flamboyant delivery, reminiscent of the silent-movie style Chaumette would have mastered, is delicious. Luchini, meanwhile, plays the bumbling civil servant with a obliviousness about his ineptitude that would do Inspector Clouseau justice; he has two great scenes, a hilarious bit of business when he interrogates Boon’s suave architect over an alibi that turns out to be himself, and a give-and-take with Huppert over an array of open cases she might lay claim to.
“The Crime Is Mine” is a very artificial confection, and there are moments when its archness becomes a bit much, but overall it’s a delectable divertissement. Be sure to stay around for the start of the closing credits, where the futures of many of the characters are delightfully recorded in the style of the period scandal sheets represented by Gilbert Raton (Félix Lefebvre), the young reporter who’s happy to spread news about Madeleine’s case. You’ll be glad you did; the bit provides a great close to an enjoyable Gallic romp.