Carla Bhem (Emmanuelle Devos) has been working conscientiously as a senior secretary for a property development company for some years, yet she still isn’t respected and rewarded by the male-dominated company. But at 35 with an underwhelming physique and needing a hearing aid in both ears, her options are limited. However, when she is encouraged to get an assistant and recruits Paul (Vincent Cassel), a roguish thief fresh out of jail, she unwittingly embarks on a new course in life. So does he.

She teaches him good manners. He teaches her bad ones.

If you're cynical you can read every relationship as political, about power. Rarely has this been more thoughtfully explored than in Jacques Audiard's latest film Read My Lips.

Carla Behm, Emanuelle Devos, is an oppressed receptionist/dogsbody at a property development company. She's ill-used by her male co-workers, especially by Keller, Pierre Diot. Carla is hearing-impaired. When everything gets too much she thinks her boss is going to fire her but he just wants to get her an assistant. When she goes to the employment office it's almost as if she's at a dating agency. She wants someone with 'nice hands'. She gets Paul Angeli, Vincent Cassel, an ex-crim who knows nothing about outgoing mail.

These two become of use to one another, Carla uses Paul's criminal skills to get revenge on Keller, and Paul, after he's pulled back into his underworld milieu, uses her lip-reading skills to his advantage... And even though he thinks he owes this somewhat dowdy woman sex, she seems to be after something else, despite her daydreams.

This is really a terrifically interesting film. Written by director Jacques Audiard in collaboration with Tonino Benacquista, the film revels in the ambiguities of Carla's character. She's not immediately immensely likeable. And nor is Paul for that matter. The film is really about their mutual empowerment.

After an intriguing set-up Read My Lips becomes more a standard thriller, and a fairly improbable one at that, that is just vaguely disappointing after such a promising beginning. Audiard uses extreme close-ups, hand held which are disconcerting, to say the least. But he's an intelligent filmmaker, his ability to create moods and scenes that are efficiently informative and characters that are complex and tantalising is formidable.