Monday, December 25, 2023

Ozon’s The Crime is Mine

In 1937, Will Hayes of the MPA (as it is now known) approved Wesley Ruggles’ True Confession for release despite its “flippant portrayal of the courts of justice.” If only they could have seen Judge Gustav Rabusett, the dumbest investigating magistrate in all of Paris. He appears in the first French [super-loose] adaptation of George Berr & Louis Verneuil’s play after True Confession and the subsequent American remake Cross My Heart. Rabusett does little to inspire confidence in the French justice system. However, like Roxie Hart in Chicago, Madeleine Verdier knows you cannot buy the kind of publicity a murder trial produces, so when he tries to railroad her for the fatal shooting of a producer, she goes along for the sensationalistic ride in Francois Ozon’s The Crime is Mine, which opens today in New York.

Verdier is a struggling actress. Her roommate Pauline Mauleon is a struggling attorney. When Rabusett fits her for the murder of Montferrand, a dirtbag producer with a notorious casting couch, it serves both their purposes. Verdier had indeed fought off Montferrand’s unwanted advances that fateful day, but she left before he was killed. Like any sensible women living alone in a big city, Verdier and Mauleon keep a gun in their apartment. It happens to be the same caliber that killed Montferrand. Since ballistic science was limited in the 1930s, that was more than good enough for Rabusett.

It works out pretty well for Verdier and Mauleon too. Both become newsreel stars and tabloid sensations when the actress explains how she shot Montferrand to “defend her honor.” Cannily, Mauleon turns the trial into a feminist drama, starring Verdier. Fame soon follows, as well as a fortune (on credit). Yet, the real murderer is still out there, watching as the women reap the rewards of the crime Verdier did not commit.

The source material might be dated, but the way Ozon and co-screenwriter Philippe Piazzo skewer the tabloid media still feels fresh and relevant. The adoring media act more like Verdier and Mauleon’s press agents than investigative journalists. They are not reporting the news, they are picking sides.

Yet, Ozon never blames them for playing the press or the system. In fact, he invites viewers to enjoy watching Verdier and Mauleon get one over. Indeed, it is rather subversively entertaining, thanks to energy and vitality of Nadia Tereszkiewicz and Rebecca Marder as the thesp and the mouthpiece. They are having fun getting away with it and so do viewers—at least until the regally flamboyant Isabelle Huppert throws a monkey wrench in the works, portraying Odette Chaumette, a past-her-prime actress transparently inspired by Sarah Bernhardt.

Most of the men are not much in
The Crime is Mine, but the notable exception is Danny Boon as the late Montferrand’s financial rival, Fernand Palmarede. He too seems to be having a jolly good time exploiting the situation for all its worth. As a result, he lines up solidly on Team Verdier. The great Andre Dussollier is also likably befuddled as Monsieur Bonnard, the tire magnate and father of Verdier’s underwhelming boyfriend. Of course, Ozon-regular Fabrice Lucchini is perfectly cast as the pompous Rabusett.

Ozon dexterously combines broad farcical elements with a droll comedy of manners. It is funny, in an archly sophisticated kind of way, gliding from one witty conversation to the next. Recommended for fans of classic French comedy,
The Crime is Mine opens today (12/25) at the Quad Cinema in New York.