Read My Lips (Sur Mes Lèvres) (2001)

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Released 17-Feb-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Audio Commentary-Jacques Audiard (Director)
Audio Commentary-Emmanuelle Devos And Vincent Cassel (Actors)
Filmographies-Cast & Crew
Deleted Scenes-7
Interviews-Crew-Tonio Benacquista
Interviews-Crew-Andre Desplat
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-The Last Kiss, Respiro, The Best Man's Wedding, Time Out
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2001
Running Time 114:00 (Case: 120)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (79:44) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Jacques Audiard

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Vincent Cassel
Emmanuelle Devos
Olivier Gourmet
Olivier Perrier
Olivia Bonamy
Bernard Alane
Céline Samie
Pierre Diot
François Loriquet
Serge Boutleroff
David Saracino
Christophe Van de Velde
Bô Gaultier de Kermoal
Case ?
RPI $36.95 Music Alexandre Desplat

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None French Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
French Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 3.0 L-C-R (160Kb/s)
French Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 3.0 L-C-R (160Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Sur mes levres (Read My Lips) is a recent offering of French cinema that won much critical and box office acclaim not only in its home country but also internationally. The film scooped the pool with a total of nine nominations at the 2002 Cesar awards (the French equivalent of the Academy Awards), and won the categories of Best Actress, Best Sound and Best Writing. Other nominations included Best Director, Best Actor and Best Cinematography. All the fuss was for good reason, as this is undeniably a well crafted, and above all well acted piece of entertainment.

    The film is a hard to categorise tense crime thriller, cum quirky romance, from French director Jacques Audiard, based on his own story idea written with co-writer Tonino Benacquista. The film succeeds because it offers entirely convincing and absorbing characters with interesting histories and baggage, and then brings those characters together in an interesting series of circumstances, such that the audience is drawn in and wants to find out how they will react together and what will eventually become of them. If you crave a welcome breath of fresh air from the tired old Hollywood drama formula, and you want to see a drama with a difference, infused with that trademark, quirky French style and humour, then you could do plenty worse than see Read My Lips, as it is a fine film. Unfortunately though, you could not go as far as to say that this is a perfect film, as it does have some flaws (more on this below), but still, for the good majority of the feature this film is underpinned by nothing short of excellent acting, skilful direction, intriguing romance and an interesting plot.

    The story itself revolves around Carla (the very natural actress Emmanuelle Devos), a long-suffering, hearing-impaired secretary at a property development company. Carla has a fairly ordinary life, consisting of trying to do the best she can in a work environment that offers little reward for plenty of hard work, and a bunch of workmates who openly harass her. Carla knows exactly what these slimy work colleagues are saying about her too, because she can lip read them poking fun at her in the company canteen. Carla has very few close friends and a complete lack of self-confidence to form new relationships, particularly where the opposite sex is involved. At the beginning of the film, when Carla faints on the job through the pressure of her overburdened workload, Carla's kind-hearted boss sees the problem and offers to hire an assistant secretary to help ease the strain. Armed with the fantasy of hiring a young, well-groomed male trainee who might be attracted to her, Carla is shocked to instead receive from the employment agency Paul Angeli (Vincent Cassel), a rugged, unkempt ex-con, having just finished serving time for aggravated assault!  Despite the shock of this, Carla finds Paul to be quite genuine and, better still, finds something very exciting and attractive about the thought of having this young man as her trainee, so she hires him anyway, criminal record and lack of work experience notwithstanding. Not only does she hire him, but when Carla finds Paul has no money and nowhere even to sleep, she helps him out with a place to stay, an advance on his pay, and even covering for him with his parole officer. Suddenly Carla finds herself empowered for the very first time in her life, as Paul now owes her for all that she has done for him. Paul, in return, is not exactly repulsed by Carla, and discovers that if you care to take a look, there is actually a very sexy girl underneath that plain exterior. But Paul's intentions are not clear. He becomes fascinated when he learns of Carla's ability to lip read, and immediately starts scheming as to how he could find use for this useful skill, if he can keep her onside.

    With the help of Paul's criminal talents, Carla even manages to settle a few old scores with her slimy, harassing work colleagues and so becomes even more empowered at work and more valuable to her boss. Her friends are also impressed when she has the rugged Paul hanging off her arm at a party. Life is improving immeasurably for Carla.

    But the future is looking less rosy for Paul, meanwhile, as an old criminal connection catches up with him and he is forced to start work in a nightclub for underworld boss Marchand (Olivier Gourmet), in order to pay off a debt of FRF70,000. But Paul sees a ticket out of this dilemma by infiltrating the planning for Marchand's next big job and scheming to make off himself with the proceeds. To do this, he will need the lip-reading talents of Carla. By now besotted with the mysterious and protective Paul, Carla becomes a willing accomplice. What follows is a very well thought out thriller, taking place against the backdrop of a quirky romance unfolding between two societal outsiders.

    The weight of this film is carried squarely on the shoulders of the two main stars, and they both deliver. Emmanuelle Devos in particular is outstanding in her role as the shy and unconfident secretary, playing the role with just the right touch of pathos but never alienating the audience. Of course, the writing also helps, and there are some intimate scenes of Carla alone in her apartment - beautifully acted - that really help to win over the audience to sympathise with this young woman. Carla's transformation from timid object of ridicule in the beginning of the film to empowered criminal accomplice at the end is only made believable though the conviction of Devos' performance. And Vincent Cassel too delivers in his performance, with just the right degree of brashness, strength and yet apprehensiveness in his character to make him completely believable. Above all, there is a definite chemistry between these two actors on screen that cements the believability of the relationship that lies pivotal to this film.

    It would be great to be able to report that this film is an absolutely flawless piece of French cinema, and certainly as you start to get engrossed in it, you hope this might be the case. But unfortunately it stops short of being a true standout because of a few problems with the script and pacing. Firstly there is a sub plot of the parole officer losing his wife that just doesn't seem to work at all and should have been edited out, in my opinion. This subplot is introduced way too late into the film, stopping the flow of the story when it does, and then unfolds by way of only sparse scenes interspersed throughout the rest of the plot, only serving to be disruptive to the pacing of the film as a result. Worse, the point of the resolution of this subplot in the end is quite ambiguous. Next, there is a major hole in the main plot that becomes quite obvious at the climax of the film's action sequence. Finally, the resolution of this action sequence and the ending of the film itself comes across as somewhat rushed, as if the director wasn't quite sure what to do once he got the characters to the end and wrapped up the storylines. Of course, it should be noted that European audiences are much more forgiving of ambiguous endings in their cinema and in fact often enjoy the resolution of a story to be only hinted at rather than spelled out - so the film's ending should be viewed and appreciated with this European cinema context in mind. But still, I found the resolution of this film to be not entirely satisfactory, mainly because of the pacing issues and the rather abrupt way the final action and final resolution of the story is played out. Perhaps this is an editing problem? In any event, I am not alone in the view that the resolution is suboptimal.

    On balance, Read My Lips is a fascinating piece of cinema, and is a must see for its brilliant acting, believable characters and intriguing story concept. The "hard to pin-down" nature of this quirky thriller cum romance only adds to its appeal. It is ultimately not a flawless film, but certainly succeeds admirably for the good majority of the running time, and is well worth investing your time in if you harbour a love of or a leaning to European cinema.

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Transfer Quality


    The quality of the video transfer is excellent and very hard to find fault with.

    The DVD video transfer is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and it is 16x9 enhanced.

    This is a modern film print that has been well recorded and very well transferred for DVD. All aspects of the transfer's luminance score highly. The image is razor-sharp, with a staggering amount of detail on show from the very first scene, with close-ups of the characters' clothing, faces and hair revealing great detail. Resolution is high in this transfer both in foreground and background images. Shadow detail is there when required and there is absolutely no low level noise to detract. A beautifully crisp transfer.

    All aspects of colour similarly score highly. Variation in colour is used to great effect by the director and cinematographer of this film. For the most part - and particularly towards the beginning in the office scenes - colours are rather earthy and deliberately restrained, but still come across perfectly natural and well balanced in the transfer. This restrained use of colours is of course used to convey the mundaneness of Carla's life and the boredom/frustration she is experiencing as the film begins. But then, as the film progresses, colour is slowly introduced to stylistic effect and by the time we get to the nightclub scenes, where Carla is experiencing an exciting new world and developing her own strength of character as a result, the colours become very rich and bold, remaining beautifully saturated and well balanced in the transfer throughout. Skin tones are also accurate throughout. Black levels are nearly always sustained very deep and solid; my only (petty) complaint would be one or two of the night-time rooftop scenes where the black levels take on a slightly charcoal tinge - but this may or may not have been a stylistic choice.

    There are no MPEG artefacts to note. As stated, this is a well handled transfer of a modern film, and the amount of detail on offer in the transfer is indicated by the consistently high bit rate throughout the video transfer. (The Bit Rate Viewer programme indicates that the average bit rate for this feature is 6.7MB/s, but intuitively, from watching a good portion of the film with the bit rate meter on, it seemed somewhat higher than this.)  In any event, there are no compression or pixelisation artefacts noted. Film-to-video artefacts are virtually non-existent, putting aside some minor edge enhancement and only a single instance of threatened aliasing, on a set of bedroom wardrobe doors. Film artefacts are for all intents and purposes non-existent.

    The English language subtitles are clear, well placed, easy to read and well timed. Whilst I don't speak fluent French, the subtitles have the feel of being relatively comprehensive and accurate.

    The disc is RSDL formatted, with the layer change occurring at 79:44, just after a scene change - a bit odd when it would have been better positioned right on the edit instead. The change itself was a touch clumsily to negotiate on my player, but is acceptable.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The audio transfer is stunning. It is very well designed and conceived in the first place (as borne out by this film winning the 2002 Cesar for Best Sound) and is very well executed in the mixing for DVD.

    There are two French language audio tracks available for the feature, a default Dolby Digital 5.1 (at maximum bit rate 448Kb/s) and a Dolby Digital 2.0 (at 224Kb/s). I reviewed the default track.

    Dialogue quality cannot be faulted, being full and clear and distinguishable in the mix at all times, even in the nightclub scenes. Audio sync is generally fine. I did find it to be marginally wandering in parts, but this is much less troublesome in a foreign film anyway, given we are being kept busy reading subtitles to be too distracted by any very minor sync alignment issue.

    The music score for this film is provided by Alexandre Desplat, who has a long filmography as composer of French films dating back to 1985. His film score for Read My Lips is just great, being sparse, subtle, effective and assisting to tangibly convey mood for the onscreen action. I think I will be watching out for more of this man's scores in the future. The DVD transfer handles the music with clarity and with full use of all sound channels to provide wonderful scope and depth, assisting the overall impact of the score.

    Surround presence and activity is where this 5.1 mix shines. The surround mix is often subtle, yet always active and completely effective in its ability to immerse the viewer in the film - and you can't ask for any more than that in a surround mix. The sound design has been very well though out, offering audio POVs from Carla's perspective and therefore changing, depending on whether Carla is wearing her hearing aids and at what sensitivity setting, to be everything from dull indiscriminate noises and thuds to ultra-sensitive background noises and straining distant conversations. A healthy dose of room noises and other ambience is sprinkled liberally across and around the soundstage to provide a constantly interesting, yet never over the top DVD audio track that complements the on-screen action well. Above all, the sound design and DVD audio transfer really do help to convey the heightened importance of hearing to Carla's world, and consequently lend to the believability of her character.

    Subwoofer use is also great. Not that the subwoofer is called upon for large parts of the film, mind, but is always there ready and waiting to lend weight to the various knocks and bumps and fights as they occur. It is when we are first introduced to the nightclub half way through the film that the subwoofer really comes alive in this audio track, and it does so with a vengeance, helping to accentuate the new level of contrast and excitement being introduced to Carla's world. In fact, the mixing of the music in general for these nightclub scenes is just superb. With skilful use of the full dynamics across the entire soundstage, it is quite impressive.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    There is a neat extras package on offer here, it's just that most of us won't be able to enjoy them!    


     The main menu is presented in 1.78:1 16x9 enhanced video and is not animated. It does contain an audio underscore. Despite being a static menu, it works quite well, borrowing well from the feel and mood of the film.

Photo Gallery (8 photos)

    On set shots. Nothing too exciting.

Cast and Crew Filmographies (5 pages)

    Filmographies only - no bio pages - for director Jacques Audiard and the two leading actors Vincent Cassel and Emmanuelle Devos.

Unrelated trailers: "More from the World Cinema Collection"

    Four unrelated DVD trailers. I don't count this as an extra.

Now the bad news: all of the following extras are French language extras only, and with no subtitle languages provided. These have been taken from the Region 2 French release of this DVD, for which no English subtitles were created. If you can speak fluent French, then enjoy these extras. For the rest of us, sacre bleu!...

Audio Commentary 1: Director Jacques Audiard

Audio Commentary 2: Actors Vincent Cassel and Emmanuelle Devos

Deleted Scenes (7) - 3 with selectable French commentary

Featurette Interview with Co-Writer Tonio Benacquista (20:29)

Featurette Interview with Composer Alexandre Desplat (14:22), and

Theatrical Trailer ("International Trailer") - in 1.85:1 not 16x9 enhanced.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This title is already available in both Regions 1 and 2. Furthermore, in Region 2 there are actually two different versions from Pathe, one a bare bones UK release and the other a more comprehensive French release, with all the extras. It appears that our Region 4 release from Fox has been largely sourced from the better Region 2 French version, including transfer and extras.

    In comparison to the Region 4 release then, both the Region 1 and Region 2 UK versions miss out on:

    The Region 2 French version is basically the same as our Region 4 version, with only one minor plus and one minor minus to the equation - the plus is that the Region 2 French version gets an additional French language subtitle track, and the minus is that it misses out on the secondary French Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track - neither of which is anything to be too concerned about for English speaking audiences. Other than this, the two versions of this DVD appear identical, including from what I understand exactly the same video transfer.

    It is d*** annoying that no matter whether you purchase the Region 4 version or the Region 2 French version of this disc, the only way you are going to be able to enjoy the extras on offer is if you speak French. This is particularly annoying when, by all accounts from the Region 2 reviews published, the two audio commentaries in particular are both good value. It is a d*** shame that Fox didn't go to the extra trouble above and beyond the call to source some new English-language translations for the extras for the Region 4 release so we could enjoy them. But then again on the other hand, we can be thankful that Fox has at least gone to the trouble to deliver us the most comprehensive extras package currently available... even if only a small portion of the Region 4 public will be able to appreciate them.



    Read My Lips is a breath of fresh air and a deserved winner of numerous international film awards and nominations. The combination of superb acting, interesting character relationships, intriguing story concept and - for the most part - well crafted scripting and direction all make this film a winner. Maybe not a perfect film, but on balance a winner. This is certainly a must-see for anyone who celebrates solid acting, fine drama, or European cinema.

    The film is presented on a technically solid DVD, boasting crisp video and wonderful surround audio. Extras are here too, just unfortunately unavailable to most of us.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Sean Abberton (read my bio)
Monday, March 29, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using Component output
DisplayToshiba 117cm widescreen rear projection TV. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderYamaha RXV-1000. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL).
AmplificationElektra Theatre 150 Watts x 6 channel Power Amplifier
SpeakersOrpheus Aurora III mains, Orpheus Centaurus 1.0 centre, Velodyne CT150 sub and B&W DM303 rears

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