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Lisa (Diane Kruger) doesn’t do prison well. Her devoted husband Julien (Vincent Lindon) hatches an escape plan.

1996-98 AccuSoft Inc., All right

3 out of 4 stars


Pour Elle

  • Directed by Fred Cavayé
  • Written by Fred Cavayé and Guillaume Lemans
  • Starring Vincent Lindon and Diane Kruger
  • Classification: PG

Julien is a literature professor who doesn't read books, and a beloved son who never finds time for his parents. A passionate romantic, all he lives for is his wife, a spectacularly alluring blonde. That and the narcotic balm of a cigarette to push away the world after they have been together.

One morning, we see his wife, Lisa (Diane Kruger), cleaning a suspicious red speck off the shoulder of her coat. Seconds later, police burst in and arrest her for murder. Lisa is on her way to prison, and Julien (Vincent Lindon) to hell.

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Lisa can't take prison. A few months behind bars and the gold is gone from her hair. She stops taking necessary medicine. And she refuses to see Oscar, her little boy. Plainly, she no longer wants to live, which means that Julien, too, is dying. The distressed teacher seeks out a criminal who has famously escaped a number of French prisons. Julien tells the man he is thinking of teaching his book, a popular bestseller based on his prison escapades. The ex-convict can tell the professor is lying and offers a bit of advice worthy of Camus: "Escaping is easy," he says. "The hard part is staying free."

Pour Elle has a dandy set-up. The follow-through isn't bad either. French filmmaker Fred Cavayé knows how to conduct a thriller, punishing his protagonist with a clever array of traps and entanglements.

The rookie director also has a nice shorthand way of telling a story. In one street scene, Julien approaches a young dealer selling contraband cigarettes. He buys a pack and asks if the dealer knows anyone who forges passports. He's told no. Julien returns to his car and throws the deck onto a passenger seat already piled high with cigarettes. Julien has clearly been working the streets all night.

Pour Elle benefits from a great performance by Lindon, who you may have seen in La Moustache or Chaos , if not on the cover of European tabloids (he was a long-time companion of Princess Caroline of Monaco). Here, the French actor performs the almost athletic feat of manufacturing and maintaining a look of stunned shock - an expression that evolves, in slow fractions, to a mask of cold fury.

Kruger ( Inglourious Basterds ) is also quite good, although we need to see more of her. The German actress is the kind of icy, carnal blonde who might make Alfred Hitchcock rise from the grave, script in hand. Pour Elle would have been a lot more affecting if we were made to feel about Lisa the way Julien does.

The film suffers from an overexcited soundtrack. It's understandable that Cavayé might not have had the budget to get Philip Glass doing Bernard Herrmann (Hitch's composer of choice). But it's a drag to have action scenes punctuated with synthetic drumbeats that sound lifted from an eighties' TV cop show.

Still, these are smallish complaints. Pour Elle is a smart, startling thriller; a perfect date movie for couples who like to smoke afterwards.

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Special to The Globe and Mail

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