Verdict: Working Girl meets Damages.
Isabelle, played by Ludivine Sagnier, learns her boss (Kirstin Scott Thomas, in background) is not what she seems.
A compact and engrossing thriller that wobbles a little but never enough to come off the rails, this is the last film for French director Corneau, who died shortly after its French release.
His work has not been much seen here, though Tous Les Matins du Monde, his 1991 biopic of a 17th-century cellist, was a splendid evocation of the passion of the artist and a notable father-and-son act for Gerard and Guillaume Depardieu.
Here, though, he's in Hitchcockian vein as he mixes Working Girl with the TV series Damages, gives it a squeeze of Gallic zest and serves it very chilled indeed.
Paris-based Scott Thomas, now a leading actress in the French cinema, relishes getting her talons into the role of psychopathic superbitch Christine, the top dog at the Paris branch of a US-based agribusiness conglomerate.
She seems to be a mentor to her adoring lieutenant Isabelle (Sagnier), who is plainly keen to learn. But the younger woman's adoration curdles somewhat when Christine starts playing games, including claiming credit with the top brass for Isabelle's original work ("It's not betrayal," she explains with a toxically sweet smile, "it's teamwork.") When Isabelle gets one up on Christine, the latter's tricks escalate into harassment verging on psychological terror - and Isabelle starts planning to get even.
The sleekly plotted drama has plenty of surprises in store - without giving anything away, it's safe to say that it's hard to tell exactly what game Isabelle is playing until the last few minutes.
The film's opening scene makes it plain that we are in the hand of a real maestro: in a few minutes, which fairly drip with understated tension, the personalities and relationship of the two women is deftly and economically sketched, and by the half-hour mark we seem to have already reached the climax. But there is much, much more to come.
The sparingly used score - mainly haunting and discordant saxophone riffs - adds to the sense of tension and there's a very sharp sting in the story's tail. It's a very satisfying drama about what happens when big girls fight.
Cast: Kristin Scott Thomas, Ludivine Sagnier, Patrick Mille, Guillaume Marquet, Gerald Roche
Director: Alain Corneau
Running time: 106 mins
Rating: M (violence, language, sex scenes) In French with English subtitles