Julien Auclert (Vincent Lindon) and his wife, Lisa (Diane Kruger), live a peaceful life in the French suburbs with their son, Oscar (Lancelot Roch). Their world is shattered when, one night, the police storm their house and arrest Lisa on suspicion of murder. Several years later, Julien learns that Lisa, who is diabetic and now serving a 20-year prison sentence, is refusing her insulin. Knowing that Lisa is on the verge of giving up, he hatches a risky plan to break her out of jail.
Reviews (CONTAIN SPOILERS):
Keeping the suspense set-pieces on the right side of plausible, director Cavaye and co-writer Guillaume Lemans have crafted a striking thriller with a strong central performance from Gallic Robert Powell-alike Lindon.
Imbuing his Julien with the right level of determination, compassion and brains, Lindon convincingly pulls off the desperation that could transform a tweedy teacher into a driven jail breaker, with the requisite smarts to believably plan it all out.
Surrounding Lindon with a well-written supporting cast, Cavaye allows room for touching moments with Julien’s young son (the endearing Roch), his quietly estranged father (a stoic Perrier), and the glowering detective (the ferocious looking Graia) who appears when Julien slips up.
Taking up a relatively minor portion of screen time, yet felt throughout, is Kruger’s incarcerated wife. Conveying suicidal despair (a scene when she learns she is doomed to remain in prison is one of the film’s best) and resilience, Kruger is the kind of woman most men would risk breaking into prison for.
And when a twist of fate forces an early kickstart of the plan, Cavaye generates a steaming head of high tension. From Julien’s hazardous raid on a drug dealer’s money stash to the climactic bust, the plan quickly unravelling in the face of the police investigation, the director proves himself deft and devious at devising traps and pitfalls for his characters.
And, with believable twists and turns during the climax, Cavaye even manages a thoroughly satisfying conclusion to his tale.
Although belonging to the recent trend of French thrillers, Anything For Her’s muted colours and noirish atmosphere recall such 70s movies as The Watchmaker of St Paul or Claude Chabrol’s suspense melodramas.
The story follows a happily married couple, still passionately in love, who lead a normal life together with their young son Oscar. But their lives are turned upside down when one morning, completely out of the blue, the police come to arrest Lisa for a brutal murder. She is found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison which threatens to break the family apart. Julien makes it his mission to prove his wife’s innocence and will stop at nothing to get her out of prison. But is Lisa innocent and how far will Julien go to save her?
Fred Cavayé’s debut is a rousing throwback to the French thrillers of Delon and Belmondo’s 1970s heyday. Regardless of the periodic need to suspend disbelief, teacher Vincent Lindon’s bid to spring wife Diane Kruger from prison is full of unanswered questions and tense set-pieces. Despite a fuzzy flashback, it can never be taken for granted that Kruger is innocent of the murder for which she gets 20 years, an element of doubt that deprives Lindon’s plan of heroism and makes his escape plan all the more deliciously reckless.
While never exactly Bressonian, the breakout is meticulously and credibly staged.
GLOBE AND MAIL (USA):
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.
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.