The Page Turner (La tourneuse de pages)

Year of Release: 2006     Directed by Denis Dercourt.             Starring Déborah François, Catherine Frot, Pascal Greggory, Clotilde Mollet, Xavier De Guillebon, Antoine Martynciow, and Julie Richalet.

Before I begin, I should confess that I have an affinity for cautionary tales as well as revenge stories, provided that the revenge is portrayed as destructive and disturbing.  In both regards, The Page Turner does not fail to deliver, succeeding as a chilling cautionary revenge tale.

The movie opens with ten-year-old Melanie (Julie Richalet).  She lays awake in bed air-practicing her piano repertoire.  She then gets out of bed, goes to the piano, and practices the most difficult passages before playing the entire piece.  Her behavior is that of a skilled and conscientious student, and it is clear that she has a promising future as a pianist.  Unfortunately, Melanie also suffers from a dangerous level of perfectionism, manifested when she tells her parents that she will permanently quit piano if she fails her examination.  Her parents do not share her obsession, and reassure her that they will continue to pay for her lessons even if she fails, because her playing is beautiful and she enjoys it, and her enjoyment is most important.  However, Melanie is determined; if she does not pass, she will quit.

The examination starts very well; Melanie is calm and plays accurately and expressively.  Halfway through the piece, an eager fan bursts through the doors seeking a signature from Ariane, (Catherine Frot) one of the famous pianists on the jury.  Ariane obliges, and Melanie stops playing distracted and afraid that she is playing poorly and the jury is no longer interested in her playing.  Ariane lectures Melanie that she need not have stopped and tells her to continue where she left off.  By that point, the damage is done; Melanie cannot refocus her concentration and badly stumbles through the remainder of the piece.

Interestingly, the film never shows the audience the jury’s verdict.  Although they were disappointed with the second half of Melanie’s playing, it is still possible that she could have passed based on the first half of her performance or from sympathy due to the distraction.  That does not matter to Melanie; she did not play at the level she wanted, and her piano career is over.  She leaves the room crying, and on arriving home locks-up her sheet music and her miniature bust of Beethoven, and she then locks the top of the piano.

Several years later, the adult Melanie (Déborah François from L’Enfant) is working as an intern at a law firm.  Her boss (Pascal Greggory) needs a nanny for his young son, and Melanie offers to do the job.  When she arrives at his home, she discovers that his wife is Ariane.  It then becomes apparent that Melanie has never outgrown her obsession, and she has harbored a grudge against Ariane for nearly a decade.

Initially, it is hard not to feel sympathy for Melanie.  As a child, she was an eager and slightly anxious pianist.  Her perfectionism and obsession were a weakness, but they did not define her, and one hoped she would overcome them.  The distractions on her exam, which Ariane encouraged, would have been unnerving for even a professional performer.  Indeed, after a car accident Ariane suffers from performance anxiety, which surrounding distractions heighten.  However, Melanie’s increasingly ruthless attempts at vengeance show that she has allowed her unhealthy obsession to define her personality.

Melanie’s actions become increasingly sinister as she attempts to ruin not only Ariane’s life but Ariane’s entire family’s as well.  The most shocking scenes of Melanie’s cruelty are those as she threatens Ariane’s son under the guise of helping him.

There are two scenes which stand out from the otherwise sinister proceedings, contrasting the old Melanie and the woman who has allowed her obsession to consume her.  At one point an old friend meets Melanie while she is shopping with Ariane.  They quickly catch up with a friendly and heartfelt discussion.  The other scene is when Melanie calls her parents and shows herself to be a devoted, caring daughter.

It is slightly surprising that all of Melanie’s plans play out as well as she intended.  A major portion of Melanie’s plan is dependent on Ariane’s accident, which is a coincidences that Melanie could not have foreseen.  To the film’s credit, Melanie handles each situation, occasioned by luck or by her planning, with such naïveté and innocence that it would be easy for her to manipulate people the way that she wants, which makes her plan for vengeance mostly plausible.

As would be expected, Jerome Lemonnier’s score prominently features piano.  Surprisingly, the main theme is not a virtuosic piano solo suggesting the prodigious talent of the two leads, but rather a register-shifting melody with a sparsely textured accompaniment suggesting the uneasy mental state of both Melanie and Ariane.  The main theme also utilizes many repeated notes to underscore Melanie’s destructive obsession.

Like most good revenge stories, The Page Turner’s premise allows the perpetrator of vengeance to treat the victim the same way that the victim initially treated the perpetrator, emphasizing that revenge makes one into the person that one wanted to destroy.  Melanie’s conniving may or may not be successful, but she plays on the same nerves of Ariane that she allowed to destroy her own career, hoping to have similar results with Ariane.

Despite a few plot points occasioned by coincidence, The Page Turner is still a competent story about revenge, a story that makes intriguing observations and worthwhile use of the viewer’s time.

 

Content Advisory: A scene of explicit groping, fleeting nudity, a subtle lesbian seduction, a gruesome stabbing, and some menace towards a child.                               Not Rated.

Suggested Audience: Adults.

Personal Recommendation: B+

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