Friday, December 09, 2011

Klapisch’s My Piece of the Pie

Steve Delarue is a financial shark. France Leroi is a single mother, who is laid-off when her factory abruptly closes (but what a name she has). The former is so obviously the villain and the latter is so clearly the victim, we can surely put our brains on auto-pilot. Yet, Cédric Klapisch’s latest offering is surprisingly more interesting than that (perhaps unintentionally so, but it still counts). Drawing on three year-old headlines, Klapisch tells a messy morality tale in My Piece of the Pie (trailer here), which opens today in New York at the IFC Center.

France Leroi is indeed a victim. That is not a subjective judgment; it is the essence of her identity. A union worker thrown out of work by her factory’s financial collapse, she attempts suicide during a birthday party, with her home filled with children. Fortunately, she soon recovers, leaving Dunkirk to seek employment in Paris. Through a friend of a friend, she lands a gig working as the cleaning lady for Steve Delarue, a Bonfire of the Vanities style Master of the Universe recently returned to France (the country) after a long stint in London. Delarue is the kind of guy who administers the death knell to struggling enterprises, like Leroi’s former employer. In fact, unbeknownst to Leroi, he was exactly that guy.

Delarue dates supermodels, but treats them little better than servants like Leroi. Not surprisingly, he is terrible father material, but fortunately Leroi is there when Delarue’s three year-old son Alban is dumped in his lamp. In fact, as she assumes the duties of a nanny, employer and employee start to warm towards each other. However, a perceived betrayal launches Leroi on a reckless course of action.

Throughout the film, we are conditioned to perceive Leroi as the exploited and Delarue as the exploiter. Yet, her emotional reactions in the closing sequence and the final unsettling freeze frame raise a host of nagging doubts. We have essentially seen the entire film from Leroi’s POV, but is it necessarily reliable? She attempted suicide at time that would maximize the resulting drama and attention. Is it possible other embarrassing moments are the deliberate result of attention seeking behavior? Could this be significant? We forgive her for committing such a rash criminal action late in the film, because it is not premeditated and she is not presumed to be a dangerous person, but should we? Whether by accident or design, Klapisch leaves viewers re-evaluating everything they just witnessed and how they responded to it. That is certainly a rare place for a film to go.

As Leroi, Karin Viard exhibits a frightening hold on the audience, forcefully carrying us through her emotional roller-coaster. Though he scrupulously maintains Delarue’s “all business” exterior, Gilles Lellouche hints at hidden complexity, which is critically important as the film progresses. British character actor Tim Pigott-Smith also adds a memorable dash of Gekko-esque color as Delarue’s English pseudo-mentor, Mr. Brown.

Make no mistake, Klapisch clearly suggests there is more dignity and value in working on a factory floor than in high finance. However, Pie is too complicated and nuanced to serve as reductive propaganda. This is a good thing. Terrible as an economics lesson but fascinating as cinema, Pie is definitely worth checking out when it opens today (12/9) at the IFC Center.