Here is a revenge movie so unlikely, so over-the-top, that Quentin Tarantino would probably eat it up, despite the fact that it's also polite and low-key to a fault. An import from Belgium, The Page Turner is about a cold-eyed little girl who dreams of escaping the low-class existence of her butcher parents. She has talent as a pianist, and screws up the courage to sit for a Conservatory entrance exam, but is horrified when she's interrupted halfway through her audition thanks to the carelessness of a female judge. Her audition ruined, her one dream shattered, she sets about forming a ten-year plan to ruin that judge's life -- no, I'm not kidding. It's even more head-spinning when you consider that in order for the plan to work, the ten year-old has to count on growing into an incredibly attractive twenty year-old. Adult Melanie is played by Deborah Francois, (who was Sonia in L' Enfant) as a young woman whose eyes are constantly alight with schemes and wicked thoughts, even as her mouth rarely opens.
As the action begins, twenty year-old Melanie applies for and secures an internship at a business run by the husband (Pascal Greggory) of the female judge (Catherine Frot) who ruined her. When the husband lets it slip to his staff one day that he's in the market for a live-in nanny for his young son, Melanie counts on the fact that he won't turn down her offer to ditch the internship and take the position -- she is, after all, a busty, long-legged blonde. She guesses correctly, and is soon living side by side with her nemesis, and plotting an elaborate way of getting even for that inconsiderate moment all those years ago. There's a strong hint thrown in that Melanie might have tried a much easier way to take revenge -- someone tried to run down the judge with a car at some point before the present-day events, but the film stops short of giving us anything more than a hint on that one, which makes it much funnier when you think about it in retrospect.
The title comes from the fact that professional pianists apparently require an assistant to turn the music sheets for them as they play, although I've just never noticed this before. The judge, Ariane, has ambitions as a concert pianist, so she's in the market for a very good page turner -- guess who wants the job? Working in close quarters with Ariane, Melanie begins to suspect that her initial plan, which we assume was to seduce the husband into infidelity, can be scrapped in favor of a better one. She begins to pick up a strong lesbian vibe from Ariane and immediately starts to send back the same vibe. While all these machinations are going on, Melanie is also supposed to be watching the couple's young son, but his well-being is of astonishingly little concern to her. One of the film's most chilling scenes occurs when Melanie walks into the family's indoor pool and sees the boy floating limp, face-down in the water. She just stops and stares -- waiting impassively to see if he's actually dead or just pretending.
As Melanie, Francois is a captivating presence; she's calm, considerate and never 'signals' to the audience or gives any indication of the deep deception she's planning. Her character is someone who chose a path many, many years ago and could not possibly be talked out of it. She's come to terms with her decision and there's never a sense that she's undergoing any kind of emotional turmoil -- she's all business, in other words. This is a sharp contrast to the kind of outwardly emotionally unstable character you'd expect to see in a film like this, but a correct one since it forces you to pay attention more carefully in the film's opening scenes -- you know this young lady is up to something specific, but it takes a while to figure out exactly what she has in mind. If the film had found arcs for the supporting characters that were anywhere near as interesting as Melanie's, then we'd really have something special here, but unfortunately, the other characters exist mostly to be manipulated by Melanie and to respond appropriately.
I'd hate to be the person who had to cut an exciting trailer for The Page Turner -- there's next to nothing in terms of the kind of action crescendos we would expect from an American film about a revenge-seeking harpy who wants to take down a whole family. In fact, if there wasn't a person getting thrown out of a high window by page 14, a revenge genre script would probably never get anywhere in Hollywood these days, so the fact that this film exists at all is somewhat refreshing -- kudos to director Denis Dercourt. That said, I enjoyed the film only to a point -- it's clever and the lead actress is a find, but the third act has a lot of loose-ends that the film doesn't really have the energy to tie. It also has a Grand Guignol twist that I won't reveal, but I will say that it almost pushes the film into a kind of heightened reality that we haven't been prepared for. If things really end as they seem, then this young Belgian girl must be the greatest revenge artist of all time.