Isabel Huppert has made a brilliant career playing chilly, enigmatic heroines, so we're not surprised to learn before we meet her that Jeanne's nickname is the Piranha. But that's Claude Chabrol's idea of a joke, for Huppert infuses her tough, brassy character with a playful buoyancy. The actress' unusual performance matches the director's atypical yarn, which is based on a true story and contains not a single corpse. Jeanne is an examining magistrate (akin to our district attorney) probing the misappropriation of funds at a behemoth state-supported company. As the trail of corruption leads to the top, Jeanne becomes enamored of her unbridled authority even as her marriage disintegrates. The movie plays like a behind-the-scenes look at events that Parisians follow intently and are unknown to us, and which are mostly omitted here except for the headlines. As a further frustration, Chabrol has opted not to make a corruption drama along the lines of the gripping Italian films of the '90s about the prosecutors who took on the mafia, but a pedestrian portrait of a self-confident woman battling old-guard sexism. Huppert gives this oddly cryptic film a rock-solid center and a propulsive heartbeat, carrying us to the anticlimactic ending. (M.F.)
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