There's a moment in the captivating "Sincerely Charlotte" (at the Beverly Center Cineplex) that will ring resoundingly true to anyone who's ever fallen in love with the dangerously wrong person.
It occurs in the sunny living room of a shabby-elegant old suburban Paris home of a concert violinist (Niels Arestrup), which he shares with a pretty, forthright schoolteacher (Christine Pascal, coolly pivotal in what so easily could be a thankless role) and her small son (Nicolas Wostrikoff ). A day or so before, a former lover (Isabelle Huppert), in obvious anguish, had sought shelter in the adjacent studio where he teaches.
We know little more about Huppert's predicament than he does: that she's been working as a disco singer, that after a performance we see her sitting distraught on an apartment building roof. He's kindly, hasn't pressed her. But now as he looks at her--fresh from a bath and wearing Pascal's kimono and looking as cozy and contented as a cat lazing in the sun--he realizes that his settled, happy life could be destroyed in an instant--and tells her to get out.
Relief that the instinct for survival has surfaced in this clearly decent, intelligent man evaporates rapidly. In no time at all, Huppert and Arestrup are on the run, not exactly like Bonnie and Clyde, although it does seem the cops have a couple of questions to ask Huppert that she'd rather not answer.
What she has or hasn't done is beside the point to Arestrup, who feels an obligation to help her get safely across the border to Spain. "Sincerely Charlotte" is a true test of an actress. Charlotte, the erstwhile singer, is reckless, impetuous, amoral and clearly has an infinite capacity to mess up other people's lives. Yet, up to now at least, she's always landed on her feet. It isn't enough for Charlotte to be sexy and, yes, intelligent, too. To engage our sympathy she's somehow got to be likable as well as delectable, which means that she must seem honest and decent on some fundamental level. Witty and playful, Isabelle Huppert expresses all of this in her portrayal of Charlotte, which may be another way of saying that Huppert is a star.
Her Charlotte, with a punk hair style and clothes and a quicksilver personality, is irresistible. It is absolutely essential that she must be, for otherwise Arestrup's Mathieu would seem a fool, and their adventure silly, selfish and altogether distasteful instead of involving, exciting and finally poignant. We can well understand how, even though Mathieu has reminded Charlotte that "their bad times were really bad," he loses his head all over again, for she's mesmerized us too.
If Huppert, perhaps the finest of the younger French actresses, and the bulky Arestrup, a French actor of Danish descent, heretofore best known as a most convincing heavy, are up to the challenge of their parts and then some, the writing and direction of "Sincerely Charlotte" are easily their equals. This elegant-looking film is, in fact, a prime example of the argument that we can come to sympathize with just about anyone if we know them well enough; "Sincerely Charlotte" leaves us feeling that, if anything, we know these two better than they know themselves--or each other. The film's director and writer--with an assist on the script from Joelle Goron and the veteran Luc Beraud--is none other than Huppert's sister Caroline in her feature-film directorial debut. In "Sincerely Charlotte" (Times rated: Mature for adult themes) the Huppert talent shines on both sides of the camera.
A New Line Cinema release of a co-production of Les Films de la Tour and FR3. Exec. producer Adolphe Viezzi. Director Caroline Huppert. Screenplay Huppert, Luc Beraud, Joelle Goron. Camera Bruno de Keyzer. Music Philippe Sarde. Film editor Anne Boissel. With Isabelle Huppert, Niels Arestrup, Christine Pascal, Nicolas Wostrikoff, Jeam-Michel Ribes. In French, with English subtitles.
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.