Favorably evoking Claude Chabrol’s La Cérémonie in its taut, slow brewing, and unnerving portrait of dysfunctional class relations, Denis Dercourt’s The Page Turner is a distilled, understated, and elegantly realized psychological tale of fragility, revenge, and manipulation. At the heart of Dercourt’s dark allegory is a polite, attractive, and meticulous young woman named Mélanie Prouvost (in the astute casting of Déborah François, who played the role of Sonya in Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s L’Enfant and embodies the role of Mélanie with the opacity of a Bressonian model in the film), the enigmatic daughter of a provincial butcher (an occupation that also alludes to Chabrol through the film, Le Boucher) who once obsessively practiced to become a professional pianist but, having failed in her entrance audition for a scholarship at prestigious conservatory due to an unforeseen, external distraction, impulsively abandoned the piano and altogether turned away from her musical studies. Now working in a law office as a seasonal intern for a successful attorney, Jean Fouchécourt (Pascal Greggory), Mélanie’s diligence and accommodating nature impresses the genial, if abstracted Fouchécourt and inevitably accepts her offer to watch over his son Tristan (Antoine Martynciow) in order for his wife, Ariane (Catherine Frot), a renowned pianist, to singularly concentrate on her rehearsals with her ensemble for an important radio performance that will mark her return to public appearance after an extended hiatus (stemming from a still unsolved hit and run accident). Gradually, Mélanie’s impeccable musical training enables her to insinuate herself into Ariane’s rehearsals, taking on the seemingly innocuous, but immensely critical role as her sheet music page turner and, consequently, becomes an intimate – and integral – part of her increasingly mercurial performance and eroding psyche. Perhaps the most emblematic aspect of Dercourt’s quietly rendered observation of social invisibility and marginalization resides in the catalytic nature of Mélanie’s imperceptible, yet palpable toll within the Fouchécourt household, a profound influence that is figuratively embodied through Tristan’s goaded, seemingly innocuous accelerated timing of the metronome – a subtle alteration that inevitably exposes the delicate and tenuous dynamic between strength and debilitation, character and mundanity, exaltation and agony.
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