THE PAGE TURNER (LA TOURNEUSE DE PAGES) written and directed by Denis Dercourt, with Catherine Frot, Déborah François and Pascal Greggory. A Seville Pictures release. 85 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (April 6) at the Royal. Rating: NNN
French director Denis Dercourt says it's easier to make a film than to perform a musical scale.
"Absolument," laughs the director during the Toronto Film Festival. "It takes 10 years to make a good scale, you know? But if you have the right DOP, the right editor, the right actors, it shouldn't take nearly that long to make a good movie."
Dercourt should know. His latest film, The Page Turner, is set in the world of classical music, which Dercourt knows intimately. He was a solo viola player with the French Symphony Orchestra for five years and still teaches at a Strasbourg conservatory.
The film tracks working-class Mélanie's (Déborah François) revenge on the arrogant pianist (Catherine Frot) who unknowingly thwarted the girl's classical career ambitions when she was a child. Now, 10 years later, working unrecognized as the pianist's nanny, Mélanie graduates to page turner, a position in which she controls the woman's shaken confidence (not to mention her innocent son).
Despite that set-up, you couldn't call this film The Hand That Rocks The Keyboard. It's more a psychological thriller than a psycho-on-the-loose tale. When Dercourt screened the film at the Telluride fest, he discovered a big difference in how North Americans and Europeans look at movies.
"Americans know genre so well that they laugh when they think something is about to happen," he says. "In France, except for some films like Eyes Without A Face, we don't make many genre films. I had to find the rhythms by myself."
Dercourt insisted the actors be able to play their own instruments.
"What's important, too, is that the first time you show them playing, you must show their hands," he smiles. "If you don't, then throughout the film, the audience will be trying to look at the fingers."
He doesn't see the worlds of film and music as being too far apart.
"When I direct actors, they always tell me I direct them like musicians," he says. "I am absolutely not intellectual. I ask them to do precise things, like slowing down 10 per cent, or turning 1 per cent to the right.
"I also write my films like music, always aware of increasing dynamics or relieving tension. On the other hand, when I teach musicians, I tell them how important it is to visualize things and have a beginning, middle and end, just like a film."
Unlike cinema, though, classical music seems to be a dying art. Symphonies are suffering, crowds are dwindling.
"Because of my situation, I can see it more than my colleagues," says Dercourt. "What's fascinating is that The Page Turner is a great success in France. People are obsessed with this disappearing art because it's a metaphor for a lot of things.
"What's ironic, though, is that just as the art is disappearing, the players and their interpretations are incredibly good. My students play better than I do now."
Déborah François is The Page Turner.
THE PAGE TURNER
The Page Turner is a taut psychological thriller set in the classical music world. An icy famous pianist (Catherine Frot) cuts short a young girl's music career at a conservatory audition. The same girl (Déborah François) finds herself years later the pianist's page-turner and nanny to her young son.
Dercourt's film is very well shot, and intelligent on the subjects of confidence and doubt. The pianist, recovering from a car accident, is crippled by stage fright, and Frot communicates her fragility superbly. As the hard-to-read nanny, François (the young mom from L'Enfant) is her dramatic equal, with an implacable face worthy of a young Isabelle Huppert.
But despite an exciting mid-film twist, this entertaining pic, like vengeance itself, leaves you feeling a bit empty.