Favorites: La Cérémonie

La Cérémonie (1995)
Directed by Claude Chabrol
Written by Ruth Rendell, Claude Chabrol, Caroline Eliacheff
Produced by Marin Karmitz, Christoph Holch, Ira von Gienanth
Starring Sandrine Bonnaire, Isabelle Huppert, Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Virginie Ledoyen, Valentin Merlet
Over shared secrets, scuttlebutt and dudgeon, an industrious and taciturn housemaid (Bonnaire) and pertly obtrusive postmistress (Huppert) bond at the convergence of their scandalous lives shortly after the former’s hired by a gallerist (Bisset) at her husband’s (Cassel) Lucullan rural estate. Under the clerk’s impertinent influence, her only friend’s limited occupational relations deteriorate with a swell of recusancy until jaundice peaks to a bloody fever pitch. His distinctly Marxist merger of the Papin sisters’ notorious murders and Rendell’s popular novel A Judgement in Stone bespeaks Chabrol’s inspiration via Sartre’s politicized interpretation of the former, but this is no cheap or simple dogmatic allegory: notwithstanding their unintentional condescension, his wealthy victims are as bountiful as beautiful, erudite and evenhanded, while the unhinged yet animate antagonists of the underclass reject responsibility with contumelious abandon. Instead, Chabrol imputes detriment to division of class; despite all her employers’ best intentions, Bonnaire’s peripheral domestic is an isolate at a social margin, while Huppert’s dominant intimate is as much a creation of neglect as of madness. Not since his derided, deliberately desipient Tiger series had Chabrol’s style so plangently echoed Hitchcock’s, and never ere so elegantly: players step to close-ups, conspiratorial zooms emphasize unabashed confessions and confrontations, interstitial shots are framed in residential and vehicular interiors, pans repeat subsequent to dissolves and overhead shots rotate in ascent. Sparing, subtle foreboding’s manifest in verbal suggestions, creepy little surprises and the direful strings of a fine score penned by Chabrol’s son and preferred composer, Matthieu. As fans and others familiar would expect, the leads are sublime for their elan; without a word, relinquishing her vanity and nearly uglified by gauntness and a heinous, proletarian haircut, the usually beautiful Bonnaire evinces heart-rending frustration with tearful contortion and gall by glares, a fitting foil for jabbering Huppert as an impenetrably unrepentant accomplice in a part that any lesser actress would likely overplay. Neither might a false note be heard from their co-stars — Bisset’s infallible even under the baton of hopeless hacks, but her painstaking presence and nuanced delivery couldn’t feel more natural. At an age when he’d all but abandoned ideology, Chabrol concocted to almost universal acclaim a work of sneeringly sophisticated agitprop and blackest humor that may be enjoyed as an acute crime drama, but whose implications publicize the concerning conspicuity of servitude, humiliation ensuing crippling ignorance, and consequences of indigence. Worse, his perverse pair personify every sick or uncultivated little girl permitted to grow into a mundane monster.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Rope.

Favorites: À nos amours

À nos amours (1983)
Directed by Maurice Pialat
Written by Arlette Langmann, Maurice Pialat
Produced by Daniel Toscan du Plantier, Emmanuel Schlumberger, Micheline Pialat
Starring Sandrine Bonnaire, Maurice Pialat, Dominique Besnehard, Evelyne Ker, Cyr Boitard, Tsilka Theodorou, Christophe Odent, Pierre-Loup Rajot, Cyril Collard, Pierre Novion, Jacques Fieschi, Valérie Schlumberger
As a paradigm of pulchritude and conduit for the exhaust of her disintegrating Polish-Parisian clan’s explosive acrimony, a subtle yet sluttish teen (Bonnaire) seeks in every man and boy she beds the imago of her charismatically choleric father (Pialat), a practiced furrier whose frustrations inhere and aspirations have been intrusted to his nympholeptic and emotively exhausted wife (Ker), and son (Besnehard) whose emergent auctorial talent is a source of both pride and concern. Still cherry-picking all the choicest haecceities of France’s cinematic perfectionists and the nouvelle vague who ostracized them, Pialat cultivated for this masterwork the esprit of brilliantly naturalistic, frequently improvised portrayals, and ambiences of stirring verisimilitude in lingering shots that bare the essence of personality while communicating and evoking the quiet excitement anticipating defloration, warm mutuality of parental and filial affection, the afterglow of amative coitus, suggestive silences at least as expressive as speech, bodily contours of sensuous immanence, yearning for inamorati absent, stinging spurns, their attendant heartbreak, and love shipwrecked on shores of caprice, all predicated upon Langmann’s autobiographical substratum, itself personalized repeatedly to befit the handsome novices dominating the cast. From her very first shot, Bonnaire’s as mesmerizing as she’s ever been since as much for her alluringly crude beauty as the instinctive and unpolished interpretation of her alternately estranged and enamored jilt, whose venturous individuality and lubricious whims leave in her wake a trail of misery — yet even at her most dallyingly detestable, an evident regret unveils a vulnerability as profound as those of her scorned swains. Her father’s imprudent yet inevitable abandonment of his nuclear household merely exacerbates and expedites its inhabitants’ dissolution: squabbles between mother and daughter erupt to magnify into altercations for which the latter’s beaten by her burdened brother in confused emulation of their extravagating patriarch. Worse, the most beautiful and ardent of her lovers (Boitard) finds himself scathingly shunned, the target of umbrage intended for the papa to whom his is the most striking semblance. His painterly background’s patefied in Pialat’s craftsmanship of lapidary precision enlivened but never misdirected by ad-lib inspiration; every scene’s painstakingly composed yet executed with such degage grace that their implications and exactitude may be overlooked during an initial viewing, always concluding satisfactorily (often sans resolution) to an unhurried pace that seems to elapse with sudden rapidity. Never was his extemporary genius so masterfully manifest as in a late postprandial scene, where his unbidden dad suddenly confronts and subjects his cognate family and new in-laws to condign, understated analysis and censure in a sequence as remarkable for its filmmaker’s unscripted sapience as for the spontaneous skill exhibited by the tyros in his charge, who respond in genuine astonishment without momentarily breaking character. Clearly, Pialat was as disinclined to append any tidy conclusion as to script rapprochement between his recriminative characters, if only to emphasize how the worst sinners among them are those most sympathetic, and that dysfunction and passion converge to people who can’t perforce be assessed at a glance…or a lifetime’s scrutiny.

Palatable: Police

Police (1985)
Directed by Maurice Pialat
Written by Catherine Breillat, Maurice Pialat, Sylvie Pialat, Jacques Fieschi
Produced by Emmanuel Schlumberger, Daniel Toscan du Plantier
Starring Gérard Depardieu, Sophie Marceau, Richard Anconina, Jonathan Leïna, Sandrine Bonnaire, Franck Karoui, Pascale Rocard, Jacques Mathou
Depardieu registers far more of his characteristic charm than brutish menace as a gregarious, obtrusive inspector who falls as hard as concrete for the coolly opportunistic girlfriend (Marceau) of a Tunisian narcotics smuggler (Leïna) plying a dicey, lucrative trade with his four brothers. With DP Luciano Tovoli, Pialat beautifully presents a photogenic cast from whom he elicits prime performances, especially his superstar leads and fresh, fledgling Bonnaire as a friendly fille de joie whose kindly temperament is apposed in contrast to the shrewd stratagems of Marceau’s uncaring layabout, or a personable criminal lawyer (Anconina) who mixes with flics and felons alike to exploit both with unexpectedly treacherous consequences. Breillat later explored similar characters and scenarios in Dirty Like an Angel to reveal vulnerability beneath the tough superfices of interrogation and procedure that excite lovesick and callous idiosyncrasies proceeding from privation, but this collaboration with Pialat also postulates that neither French police nor the Arab criminals they pursued during the Fifth Republic’s zenith were either as detestable or reasonable as most might expect.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Dirty Like an Angel.