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The 365 Best Films of the 2000s

Heroes of the Zeroes: Read My Lips

Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Read My Lips”
Rated R
2001

Crawling onto the razor’s edge with bare hands, Jacques Audiard’s “Read My Lips” generated daringly uncomfortable, psychologically dangerous heat rarely found in romance of any stripe.

This 2001 French film spun its characters’ manipulations, inhibitions and exploitations into complicated chemistry, dizzying thriller twists and deferred sexual tension between Vincent Cassel and Emmanuelle Devos.

Near-deafness has led to lonely complacence for Carla (Devos), a secretary who lip-reads coworkers’ insults and is constantly cut out of job-advancement opportunities.

Cleared to take an assistant for herself, Carla hires Paul (Cassel), a parolee with no discernible skill set beyond thievery and a shabby grooming sense that recalls the rooster-combed Nicolas Cage of “Raising Arizona.”

Sensing someone she can exploit for a change, Carla abuses Paul’s past to help her seize occupational power. Her plan turns treacherous after Paul seeks repaid favors in a scheme to rob a kingpin.

“Read My Lips” works not just as a sultry, sinister violation of the Golden Rule, but of most cinematic rules for such stories.

Paul and Carla are not synthetically made for each other, as they would be in the Hollywood version. Hapless saps alone and hostile jerks to each other, Paul and Cara initially enable each other’s worst qualities.

But they’re shared qualities of risk and reward, which makes them a perfect pair for this scam — and, if they can bypass their individual hang-ups, compatible far beyond criminality.

Exhilaratingly paced, cleverly suspenseful and tastefully erotic, “Read My Lips” plumbed passion’s pathological aspects in a puppet-master romance.

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