The jittery energy and intelligence of actor Mathieu Amalric are the chief virtues of “Love Is the Perfect Crime,” a sleek, blackly comic thriller in which a serial ladies man finds his life spinning out of control when one of his young playthings goes missing. Still, the film is further distinguished by sparkling widescreen cinematography and the giddy direction of the Larrieu brothers, Arnaud and Jean-Marie. Increasingly bizarre, the twisty pic risks going off the rails, but remains grounded by Amalric’s typically riveting turn. The French-Swiss co-production could manage to reach fans of contemporary Hitchcockian fare across multiple territories.
Based on Phillippe Djian’s novel “Incidences,” the film, set in a mountainous region between Switzerland and France, opens with fortysomething university professor Marc (Amalric) seducing his creative-writing student Barbara (Marion Duval), driving her at night to the huge chalet he shares with his sister, Marianne (Karin Viard). Curiously, Barbara disappears after her tryst with Marc; more curiously, Marc doesn’t seem at all alarmed by this development. It’s a credit to the Larrieus that their protagonist appears a prime suspect of criminality from the get-go while remaining mischeviously charming nonetheless.
Things become more complicated when the missing woman’s stepmother, Anna (Maiwenn), comes to campus — the spectacularly designed U. of Lausanne — asking Marc where Barbara was last seen. Naturally, the sexed-up prof sees the stepmother as another potential conquest; meanwhile, he’s being pursued by another student, Annie (Sara Forestier), who insists on getting “private lessons” from her instructor. The revelation that Marc is a sleepwalker adds another layer of intrigue to the proceedings, as does a scene in which he tosses Barbara’s stray shoe into a snow-covered ravine.
Further surprises in the narrative are handled with playful aplomb by the writer-directors, aided by Amalric’s loose-limbed and vastly entertaining performance. Thesping is strong across the board, with Denis Podalydes standing out as the exasperated head of Marc’s department. Composed largely in shades of white, Guillaume Deffontaines’ lensing maintains a classy tone throughout. The moody synth score by Caravaggio is another major plus.