J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Assistant: Nathalie Baye Will Permanently File You

Temp workers just don’t work out in the movies. Remember Lara Flynn Boyle in The Temp or Ali Larter in Obsessed? Don’t feel bad if the answer is “no.” This is sort of the classy version of those films, except sixty-something Marie-France Ducret is more interested in inappropriately grandmothering her boss’s young son than any sort of romantic relationship in Christophe Ali & Nicolas Bonilauri’s The Assistant (trailer here), which releases today on DVD.

While rushing his pregnant wife Audrey to the hospital, Thomas Lemans accidentally mowed down Ducret’s twentysomething son. Nine years later, she still holds a grudge. The accident took a toll on the separated Lemanses’ marriage, but he clearly wriggled out of a prosecution. In the meantime, Ducret built up a resume of short-term work at architecture firms, making her the perfect temp candidate when Lemans’ assistant has her own accident. Actually, he uses the term “secretary,” because he is an entitled jerk.

Naturally, Ducret starts worming her way into Lemans’ life, proving just how helpful she can be, especially when it comes to whiny nine-year-old Leo. She sets off all Audrey (still Lemans)’s alarm bells, but frankly Thomas could use the help. He is prepared to deal with her indefinitely when she eventually marries his father Eric, but she will be an unhealthy influence on the whole family.

You could think of The Assistant as the mirror image of Frédéric Mermoud’s Moka, in which Nathalie Baye played the suspected hit-and-run driver stalked by Emmanuelle Devos’s avenging mother. This time she is the aggrieved hunter, but both films clearly share a Hitchcockian influence. You can also see a touch of an influence of Fatal Attraction and other 1980s and ‘90s dark relationship thrillers.

Baye is terrific as Ducret. As ruthless and cold-blooded as she gets, she still maintains a degree of audience sympathy. All things considered, Malik Zidi keeps up with her quite well, even though poor Lemans is decidedly slow on the uptake. Seriously, if you plow down an innocent pedestrian, at least have the decency to learn his name. Plus, seasoned vet Johan Leysen really helps hold it all together as Lemans’ craggy but sensitive father.

Admittedly, the rest of the Lemans family are more like awkward props than full-fledged characters, but Ducret’s manipulations are insidiously compelling to watch. It is a slick and stylish cat-and-mouse game, but with a darkly ambiguous heart. Recommended for fans of French thrillers, The Assistant is now available on DVD From Distrib Film/Icarus Films.

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