Genre:Comedy / Drama / Thriller,
Country : France [Cert. UK 15, 115 mins]
Dir: Claude Chabrol
Cast: Benoit Magimel, Caroline Sihol, Francois Berleand, Ludivine Sagnier, Mathilda May, Valeria Cavalli
Synopsis : Francois Berleand stars as a jaded novelist and a too happily married "ladies man" whose latest conquest is TV weathergirl Gabrielle Deneige (Ludivine Sagnier). At once naive and unstoppable, Gabrielle doesn't need to be convinced to enter into a sordid May-September relationship with a celebrated member of the intelligentsia. However, tugging at her other arm with the pull of the entire haute bourgeoisie is young Paul (Benoit Magimel), the cute but dangerously schizophrenic scion of a Lyon pharmaceutical magnate. What's a girl to do? Appropriately, the story takes as its starting point a famous Gilded Age crime of passion, the murder of Madison Square Garden architect and notorious womanizer Stanford White.
With elegance and despatch, veteran new wave master Claude Chabrol has brought off his most enjoyable film for some time: . Chabrol gets entertaining performances from his cast, François Berléand, Ludivine Sagnier and Benoît Magimel. This is a very old-fashioned sort of classy French film, in many ways: seedy in an airily sophisticated style, yet also weirdly high-minded. It could be argued that only a man of Chabrol's generation could believe quite so fervently in the plot device of a worldly older man being naturally and irresistibly attractive to a gorgeous young woman. But even this objection is disarmed with a wry smile, and Chabrol's murder scene is, in its coolly low-key way, rather brilliant. The movie gives the title its full meaning only in the final moments, which close the plot shut with a satisfying click.
The action is set in a small French town held in thrall by the local celebrity: Charles Saint-Denis, played by François Berléand, a middle-aged novelist and literary lion whose great days are behind him; he is supposed to have won the Prix Goncourt in 1969, but the creative flame now burns lower. He is doted on by two beautiful women: his wife Dona, played by Valeria Cavalli, and his editor, Capucine, played by Mathilda May, who is in the habit of coming round to Charles's stunning modernist house, sunning herself by his pool in a revealing bathing costume and exchanging deliciously knowing glances with him. Charles is still a womaniser, something that these women tolerate in their differing ways. A classical allusion in the title of his new novel, Penelope's Absence, self-servingly hints at his wayward habits.
Charles, vulnerable to female beauty as always, becomes intoxicated by Gabrielle, played by Ludivine Sagnier, the super-sexy weather girl on the local cable TV station. Her widowed mother, with whom Gabrielle lives a rather sheltered life when the TV cameras are switched off, happens to be the manager of the local bookshop where Charles is doing a signing. It is here that he lays eyes on the stunning Gabrielle.
But Charles has a rival. Paul Gaudens is a spoilt, rich, impossibly arrogant and secretly miserable and messed-up young man, with a notorious past and access to a vast fortune from his late father's pharmaceutical company; his formidable mother, however, still has a grip on the purse-strings. He is played, very nicely, by Benoît Magimel with just the right sort of careless boorishness and snide confidence that there will be enough people who will confuse wealth with charm.
He becomes entranced by Gabrielle, taking her on dates and becoming enraged at her reluctance to sleep with him. His mother is far from happy about Gabrielle, suspecting her of being a gold-digger. It might also have something to do with being a high Catholic - Gabrielle's mother uses the phrase "inshallah", which hints at a serious potential rift. Meanwhile, Gabrielle has sex with Charles and he introduces her to his shadowy club, with its secret panelled room for all manner of secret licentiousness and échangisme
Charles and Paul loathe each other. An encounter at a local restaurant is played out in the form of icy badinage, which in another age could only have climaxed in a duel. Yet they have more than love for Gabrielle in common; they are preoccupied with their own alpha-male status; they are both secretly miserable; they were both abused by masters at school. It can only end unhappily and dramatically.
This is one of those French films that make me wonder where the British equivalent could be. Like Agnès Jaoui's Comme Une Image (2004) or Michael Haneke's Caché (2005), it is unselfconsciously at home in an intellectual environment: there are scenes at literary parties, and television interviews on bookish topics. These are contrived, perhaps, but seem sincere enough. And for some reason, British cinema does not dream of concocting anything similar. (Off the top of my head, I can only think of Roger Michell's film version of Ian McEwan's Enduring Love (2004), with its scene in the London Review bookshop. It isn't exactly the same thing.)
The same goes for its airy, slightly jaundiced dialogue between the older guys at Charles's louche club: they shrug their shoulders expressively at the unending propensity for young women - their daughters, in fact - to date older men. The conversation moves amusingly on to an exasperated discussion of political correctness, which one man dates from the fall of the Berlin Wall, as if that breach admitted all sorts of newfangled sexual politics.
It is a very French confection, and maybe you will need a rather sweet tooth for it. It is also essentially unserious, I think, a poised divertissement, without the dark power of Chabrol's great movies such as Les Bonnes Femmes. A bracing, amusing experience, nevertheless.
Khamis, Mei 28, 2009
Genre:Comedy / Drama / Thriller,