02 April 2007

The Bridesmaid

Directed by: Claude Chabrol
Written by: Claude Chabrol, Pierre Leccia

Grade: A-

Near the end of The Bridesmaid a lot of shit’s hit the fan and, as two characters conclude a conversation in a park and walk-off camera, a policeman passes in the background, steps in a pile of dog feces, wipes his foot quickly and hurriedly walks off. Merde, c’est merde!

It seems like nobody but nobody can catch a break in The Bridesmaid, a film that starts off strikingly ordinary and ends up quite creepy and bizarre. It opens with a trio of siblings going to meet their mother’s new beau, but the plot point is something of a red herring (though nothing in Chabrol’s snug story is accidental.) The film is soon taking twisty, sinister turns; the first truly important narrative event occurs about a third of the way into the film, when Philippe (BenoĆ®t Magimel), a garden variety mama’s boy, meets a bridesmaid in his sister’s wedding party, a woman who calls herself Senta (Laura Smet). She is a gorgeous, anthropomorphic tigress, and Philippe gives her the I-want-to-eat-you-eyes from the first time he sees her; soon enough, they are tied up in a steamy love affair, limbs entwined in Senta’s dungeon apartment.

But Senta isn’t some putain from the street corner; she wants a commitment from Philippe and she comes on psychostrong about it. When she tells Philippe that the only way to experience true love is to have done four things—written a poem, planted a tree, killed someone, and had a homosexual experience—you have a pretty good idea that nothing good is going to come of the relationship. Really? A poem?

Thankfully, Chabrol spares us any awkward attempts at struggling rhymes, but he does lead us to bear witness to a deeply disturbing series of developments. Chabrol creates a mood of increasingly unbearable tension not by moving along a plot but by developing his characters, and being trained to watch movies in somewhat the opposite way the anxiety sort of sneaks up on you. Chabrol is masterful enough to build the suspense so steadily and slowly that you barely notice it rising up, like a child who, because you see him every day, doesn’t appear to age and yet gets bigger every day.

Figuring in the middle of all this is Flora, a stone bust of a woman who loosely resembles the mother, with whom Philippe has what should be to the audience a troubling relationship; when they speak to each other, they are a little too close for my comfort. (And I don’t think it’s just a French thing.) The bust is given as a gift from the family to the mother’s suitor, a passing on of her love from them to him. But when he drops out of the picture, Philippe takes it back. Well, he steals it back, and then he notices how much it resembles Senta, who, by the way, wears his mother’s bathrobe right before they make love for the first time. Later, when Philippe is in bed kissing the stone face, whom does he wish he were osculating—Senta, or his mother? Or is Senta just the venereal mama-figure he always wanted, and Flora the blank canvas on which to project it?

For a film with such a morbidly sour view of “family”, at least three other “Chabrols” turn up in the credits, making the film, ironically, a family affair. (Most notably, Claude’s son, Matthieu, contributes a fantastic score that subtly complements every scene with reserve and old-fashioned elegance.) Ostensibly a distressing psychological portrait of two lunatics in love, the film places that story within the context of a world that’s falling apart. The little sister is arrested for theft and accused of kleptomania; a man is found strangled on the docks; and, as we gather from televised news reports, a girl has gone missing, presumed kidnapped and killed—not to mention the hijinx of our two protagonists. Kids today! Chabrol’s cranky weltanschauung may betray his old age, but The Bridesmaid is still stinging, fresh filmmaking from a practiced master continually churning out superior work. Some people are just lucky; they get famous and then fade away. Others are genuinely talented and don’t ever burn out, making great art for the world until the day they die.

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