"She taught him good manners, he taught her bad ones," proclaimed the French posters for Read My Lips, Jacques Audiard's love/hate story set in a part of Paris most of us don't get to see very often. Starring Emmanuelle Devos as a mousy secretary who's about to roar like a lion, Read My Lips passes through Hitchcock and Chabrol on the way to an ending all its own. Devos' Carla works at a construction company, and maybe it's because she wears hearing aids that everyone treats her like she's not there. But Carla has hidden powers ' the ability to read lips, for example. And when a handsome ex-con named Paul (Vincent Cassel) takes a job as her assistant, she sees a potential partner, both in crime and out. Slow on the uptake, Paul doesn't know what to make of Carla at first. But in that time-honored Jerry Maguire kind of way, they complete each other. She's brains, he's brawn. She's woman, he's man. She's deaf, he's dumb.
Audiard does a wonderful job of evoking Carla's deafness, taking us inside her ears, where sounds can be turned up or down or shut off altogether, depending on her needs at the time. But it's Carla's eyes that may stick with you the longest ' vast pools of disappointment and resentment. Devos isn't conventionally beautiful; she looks a lot like our own Patricia Arquette. But power is the ultimate aphrodisiac, and Carla, like Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman in Batman Returns, draws strength and sexiness from the dark side. She and Paul move in on a heist that's being set up by a guy whom Paul owes money, and if this were Hitchcock we'd be torn between wanting them to get away with it and wanting them to get caught. That we aren't torn is a tribute to Audiard's power of persuasion and to his power of observation. Like Carla, he looks for opportunities in various expressions and gestures, then grabs them like there's no tomorrow.