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'The Page Turner' plays revenge in a low key

What happens to failed child prodigies? Some get over it. Some don’t. ‘‘The Page Turner’’ is about one who doesn’t.

The working-class daughter of two Parisian butchers, Melanie (Julie Richalet) excels at the piano, encouraging her parents to invest their money and hope in private lessons to prepare her for a prestigious music conservatory. But during her recital before the conservatory’s admission committee, Melanie is distracted by one of the judges, who interrupts the performance to sign a photograph for a star-struck fan. Distraught, Melanie flubs the audition, stops taking lessons, and gives up the piano.

A decade later the judge, renowned pianist Ariane (Catherine Frot), doesn’t recognize Melanie (now played by Déborah François) when she applies for a job after graduating from college. Although she hires Melanie as an au pair, Ariane quickly comes to rely on her as a page turner — the assistant who sits demurely behind concert pianists, reading along to their score and flipping the page at precisely the right moment. This is no minor job: One of the characters quotes Vladimir Horowitz’s claim that ‘‘a page turner can throw everything off balance.’’

Melanie proceeds to prove Horowitz right in ways he never imagined. She forces Ariane’s son to play music far above his ability, as if to foster in him the frustration she feels. She violently rejects the advances of the cellist in Ariane’s trio, jeopardizing their recording contract. And she coolly cultivates, in more than one way, Ariane’s growing dependence on her presence at concerts, to the point that Ariane refuses to play without her.

This is pretty interesting stuff, but French director Denis Dercourt never delivers on his story’s dramatic promise. Melanie, who has perhaps a page of dialogue over the course of the entire film, remains a cipher. She’s neither talkative nor expressive enough to generate any real sympathy for her elaborate scheme, and since Ariane is set up as the villain, the audience isn’t able to sympathize with anyone besides the poor boy Melanie forces to play Bach.

The bigger problem, though, is the film’s curious bloodlessness. Perhaps I’m being typically American in demanding a higher body count, but the stakes in this story seem too low to justify its audience’s attention. If ‘‘The Page Turner’’ were a novel, it would hardly be a page turner. Why should we hold films to a lower standard?

Michael Hardy can be reached at For more on movies, go to