I watched this as part of my French Learning Challenge and so thought I’d review it here.
The film is from 2014 and is currently streaming as part of Amazon Prime. The synopsis used to advertise it states;
Muriel Bayen, a divorced beautician and mother of two, loves to tell stories. She is a huge fan of this singer Vincent Lacroix, in fact she is a dedicated fan. One day Vincent knocks on her door and asks for her help.
Having read this I was expecting a light, romantic comedy. Perhaps my comprehension skills are very poor (I didn’t read any film category), but I really wasn’t expecting the film that was delivered. Nevertheless, I wasn’t disappointed as I was drawn into this suspenseful thriller.
As the film begins you are introduced to the two lead characters; veteran superstar chanteur, Vincent Lacroix (played by Laurent Lafitte) and Muriel, his obsessed fan (played by Sandrine Kiberlain).
When we first meet Muriel she is telling her two children a story of an encounter she had recently had in which she’d told a grotesque lie. In being mistaken for another person on the Metro she allows the encounter to continue and, when asked about a ‘mutual friend’ says that they’ve died. She says she doesn’t know why she told such a lie and acknowledges the recipients shock and grief at her statement.
As the film continues it is obvious that Muriel frequently engages in telling melodramatic lies of this kind. Her friends are seen to smile knowingly at each other as they trip from her tongue. Yet she is seen as likeable enough to have friendships and loving family ties. Her fandom, although excessive even for a young, teenage girl and therefore unusual for her age group is not revealed as malevolent even if it is a little obsessive. Her life is depicted in many ways as ordinary.
Yet the meeting between her and her children in which she devolves this needless and cruel lie points to something being ‘off’ with this woman. Particularly as Muriel walks away from her children calm and unemotional – you initially think that this is a normal weekend visit as she is so unfazed by their parting as nothing indicates that anything substantial is happening here. However it is later revealed to be their final meeting before they go to live with their father, and it is their decision to do this. All these factors begin to develop the character as in some way ‘damaged’.
In contrast Vincent is introduced as someone charming. When we first see him he is shopping in a normal market and is heard talking to his partner on the telephone, who is evidently upset and stressed about something. His willingness to do such everyday activities without the ego of his star status and his humour in handling the crises automatically warms you to him.
Later we are introduced to Vincent’s friends and girlfriend, Julie. He is evidently devoted to her as we know this is the Julie whom he has written songs for. In contrast to his charm and lack of ego Julie is immediately encountered in a sullen mood, creating an uncomfortable situation for Vincent and his guests. Her behaviour forces the others to leave and after they do so Vincent approaches Julie in order to smooth any ruffled feathers.
Julie is not willing to be placated though and she becomes physically aggressive towards Vincent, attacking and hitting him. Vincent is seen defending himself by pushing her away from him, she falls to the floor and against a bookcase. In jolting this one of Vincent’s awards falls to the floor and strikes her on the head killing her.
It is clear that Vincent is completely innocent in all of this and there is no suggestion of any contribution he has made to her death. It is purely an accident. He is seen to grieve; lying next to her lifeless body, distraught by her loss.
However, out of fear one assumes, Vincent collects himself and starts to take steps to cover up Julie’s death. In doing so he looks for help and turns to his obsessive fan Muriel.
At this point you may wish to stop reading if you want to see the film and not have the plot spoilt.
Vincent’s asks Muriel to do something for him. He’s secretive about what the ‘it’ is and this is the first time we see the lines blurred between who is the sympathetic victim. Muriel, adoring Vincent as the title suggests, can be viewed as almost childlike in her devotion. Vincent starts to be seen as manipulative and abusive taking advantage of her faith in him.
The film continues for a while with Vincent’s voiceover explaining what he wants Muriel to do. This involves her driving her car over a boarder to his sister’s home, giving his sister a letter which instructs her to take Julie’s body to her husband’s pet crematory and disposing of it, all without Muriel’s knowledge.
The voiceover is accompanied by footage of Muriel driving towards the border and stopping at the checkpoint where inspections of vehicles are being made, obviously hesitant to go across.
It’s later revealed that Murial didn’t cross the border, but discovering the body of Julie she buries it herself. When Vincent, bizarrely, aggressively confronts her with her failure to stick to his plan your identification of who is the victim and who is the manipulator, and therefore with whom your sympathy lies, is again challenged.
Vincent, in his desperation to protect himself, abuses her trust and implicates her further in the crime, but evidently feels anguish over the death of Julie and is seen gradually disintegrating to the point that overnight he develops a clump of grey hair.
Murial, in her devotion, is beguiled by him into not only doing his bidding, but is innocently unaware of his machinations behind her back. However she appears apparently unmoved by the death of the woman, apparently feeling no guilt for her involvement in covering up her death. She is solely focused on aiding her hero in evading responsibility in her death.
As the police close their net on Murial she is initially so frightened by the prospect of being prosecuted that she engages the services of a close friend who is also a lawyer. She starts to recount the emergence of Vincent on her doorstep to the friend who, knowing Murial’s fantasist nature, becomes frustrated. He explains that she must tell the truth and forget her make believe world. Murial finds herself in the position of lying for her life, but this time creating a story of everyday normality to hide the fantastic rather than the other way around.
At times the interrogation is intense and Sandrine Kiberlain’s portrayal of the sociopathic Murial is absorbing. Despite knowing her involvement and her apparent lack of an emotional response to the death of Julie you are nevertheless committed to her wellbeing and on tenterhooks at the prospect of being made the scapegoat of this ‘murder’. Her ability to construct lies working towards her advantage despite the intolerable pressure she is put under.
As the story reaches its peak an unsatisying sub-plot involving the investigating officers relationship leads to the case, and Murial and Vincent, being abandoned as the chief culprits. Vincent is seen haggard and unable to move on from the incident; grieving for the death of Julie, his conscience unable to recover from his treatment of Murial.
Murial is seen to be able to move on with her life without any of these hang-ups; the only ‘negative’ fallout for her is that her devotion to Vincent is over. She removes her memorobilia, paints over the Murial to him on her wall. Even an encounter with him, planned by Vincent, is seen to no longer resonate with her. The film ends with Vincent seemingly to take on the role of the obsessive with Murial as his focus.
This is brilliantly acted by both leads and the characters they inhabit are complex, the ending morally ambiguous. For days afterwards I was left wondering with whom my sympathy lay. This is due to the excellent script with its plot-twists creating a tense, unsettling film. It would not have worked as well if you were in any doubt of Vincent’s guilt as his innocence and obvious distress counterbalance his abuses of Murial. In contrast her lack of emotion, apart from her devotion to him, hidden by her apparent pleasant nature manages to imbed in you a sense of her innocence in the proceedings.
A great, gripping film. The only reason it has four stars and not five is the contrived ending revolving around the dysfunctional relationship of the investigating officer.