Friday, September 29, 2006
The Bridesmaid marks the second time Chabrol has turned to a novel by British thriller writer Ruth Rendell. In 1995 he successfully adapted La Ceremonie . In The Bridesmaid , Chabrol opens with a long tracking shot from inside s car traveling through a French neighborhood. The homes seem nice enough but then the camera pulls up to some activity on the sidewalk of one house. The camera approaches a crowd and then reveals a reporter at the walkway explaining how a young woman has just disappeared. Chabrol then cuts to a different family watching this news report on TV and wondering what happened to the young woman. Philippe (Benoit Magimel), a serious young man, criticizes his mother Christine (Aurore Clement) and sister for watching. This isn't quite as provocative an opening as the one Chabrol concocted for his recent La Fleur du Mal/The Flower of Evil . That film had a vintage song playing charmingly over the opening credits, then you discover a dead body in the upstairs room of a lovely bourgeoisie home. Yet The Bridesmaid suggests a similar level of discomfort.
In fact discomfort is a key ingredient in Chabrol's films. He has a way of making the most mundane things play out as unsettling. There's always a hint or a suggestion of foreboding, or a sense of veiled meaning in a gesture or word. Then he adds slightly discordant music to foreshadow something ill brewing. All these things slowly and methodically build toward a high level of unease and tension.
Philippe's sister Sophie (Solene Bouton) is getting married. At the wedding, one of the bridesmaids, a pretty woman named Senta (Laura Smet in a genuinely creepy but not exaggerated performance), approaches Philippe and ends up following him home and seducing him. She tells him that he is her destiny, and that she will love no one but him. That's a bit extreme but Philippe responds with mutual intensity. But then Philippe's got a few quirks of his own. He still lives at home, his relationship with his mother has a hint of incestuous feelings, and he sleeps with the stone bust of what he thinks is the feminine ideal. The fact that Senta looks like this stone carving has a lot to do with Philippe's eagerness to be with her. After a few nights together, Senta suggests that to prove their love for each other they need to go out and kill someone. And that's where the film takes one of those delicious Chabrol turns. To reveal any more of the plot would simply be unfair but suffice it to say that the plot plays out with creepy effectiveness.
The Bridesmaid shares a similar tonal quality with the recent French film Lemming (which starred Charlotte Rampling as a rich woman who commits suicide). Both films present a seemingly normal and calm surface but then unnerve the audience with an ominous sense of foreboding. Both films achieve this through subtle skill and carefully constructed scripts. For The Bridesmaid , Chabrol collaborated with Pierre Leccia for the script, and you can see the care they put into every detail. Take a scene at a store where Philippe is making a purchase. In the background, a distraught woman is trying to find something. We discover that the woman is upset because a man who apparently attacked her daughter has just been released. This small scene works slyly toward the film's tone and mood -- it reiterates that there are ugly things going on beneath the clam surface of our communities and it helps to create a sense of unease. Scenes like this remind us that you are in the hands of a film master. Chabrol is always in control and always a few steps ahead of us. We feel that he knows more than he's telling because he wants us to stay attentive and alert, he doesn't want to make his story too easy. There are a number of shots that take us through hallways and corridors of a home or, toward the end, a police station. These elaborate following shots are symbolic of the way Chabrol leads us through his story.
The Bridesmaid (in French with English subtitles, and unrated but for mature audiences) is yet another exquisitely crafted tale from Claude Chabrol. He may be in the ranks of senior citizens (he's 76 this year) but he's lost none of his youthful audacity and innovation. He may explore themes that are similar to ones that have stirred his imagination before but he revisits them with fresh vigor.
Companion viewing: La Ceremonie, Lemming, Fatal Attraction