Constance (Miou-Miou) loves to read, and wonders if she can develop this interest into a paying occupation. As she picks up a book in bed that night and waits for her husband to arrive, she notes that the premise of it is all about exactly that, and it begins to paint vivid pictures in her mind, so well-crafted are its sentences. Then her husband (Christian Ruché) enters the room and she tells him she has exciting news, as long as he promises not to get angry: she visited the doctor today, and, well... she bumped his car into another one, causing a little damage. He's not happy, but does not fly off the handle, as he too becomes intrigued by her book, and they both envisage what its tale would look like if it really happened...
La Lectrice genuinely was drawn from a novel, one written by Raymond Jean, so what those two characters are perusing was the actual book from which director Michel Deville took passages and dramatized them. This picked up some international interest back in the late nineteen-eighties when French cinema was perhaps coming to the end of its reign as a viable export in that just about anything with French dialogue could be guaranteed to make money with the arthouse crowd, and they would recognise many of the stars, whereas as the nineties progressed what had been much-talked about was growing more niche. This was about the last time a film starring Miou-Miou would open in cinemas across the globe and her name would pull in an audience.
She remained a cult actress even in her heyday, but in France she was a fairly substantial star, well regarded for her modesty when it came to her talents as an actress, which came across as a legitimate personality trait rather than a put on for her public. They knew she had lived a life that was full, and were aware of her relationship with Patrick Dewaere that had ended in tragedy, yet her persona on the screen did not speak to much in the way of agonising soul-searching, if anything she was among the best of her generation at conveying a certain playfulness, and that was assuredly how she was depicted here. It was as if, as she neared middle age, she was enjoying one final fling in a role that a younger actress could easily have been cast in.
She still looked relatively youthful, and had no qualms about performing the nude scenes, not that they were prevalent, it's just that it's not every respected actress of a certain age who would essay a full frontal masturbation sequence, and certainly eroticism was on the film's mind, though you would not in all faith call it pornographic, it simply played around with the sexual element much as it played around with the characters' - and by extension the actors and the audience's - role playing. As the text's Marie, her Constance found a job essentially as a talking book, reading from the pages of a variety of well-thought of literature for the benefit of her clients, each of whom needed something more than someone to read to them to feel fulfilled as all four were lacking in some way Marie could help with.
First there was the teenage boy in the wheelchair whose mother believes a reader is just the thing for a pick-me-up, though he is more captivated by Marie's legs, in a manner that suggests he covets her ability to walk as much as he is interested in her body in a more carnal fashion. Then there is the elderly General's widow who is obsessed with Lenin, but as she is bedridden she cannot get out and about as she would want to - a few sessions with our heroine and she is waving red flags from her balcony. After her, the little girl whose mother wants Alice in Wonderland read to her, though what the child actually wants is someone to take her out to the fairground, which her parent is reluctant to do, preferring to keep the girl shut away inside. Lastly, there was the impotent businessman who makes explicit his desire to "marry" Marie, but is so inept that his attempts to seduce her are more comical than passionate. It's only when she meets a client who basically treats her like a prostitute that she has second thoughts, though the film ends on a note of cheery defiance, acknowledging how there's always someone who will turn the conversation round to the pleasures of the flesh. Amusing, arch and a shade too pleased with itself, but Miou-Miou shone.