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BRIDESMAID, THE (Demoiselle d’honneur, La) (director/writer: Claude Chabrol; screenwriters: Pierre Leccia/based on the novel by Ruth Rendell; cinematographer: Eduardo Serra; editor: Monique Fardoulis; music: Matthieu Chabrol; cast: Benoît Magimel (Philippe Tardieu), Laura Smet (Senta), Aurore Clément (Christine Tardieu), Bernard Le Coq (Gérard), Solène Bouton (Sophie Tardieu), Anna Mihalcea (Patricia Tardieu), Michel Duchaussoy (the Tramp), Eric Seigne (Jacky), Pierre-François Dumeniaud (Nadeau), Thomas Chabrol (Lieutenant José Laval), Philippe Duclos (Capitaine Dutreix), Isild Barth (Rita), Mazen Kiwan (Pablo), Suzanne Flon (Madame Crespin); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Antonio Passalia/Patrick Godeau/Alfred Hürmer; First Run Features; 2004-Germany/France-in French with English subtitles)
A compelling watch.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This high wire act in perversity in trying to make a love at first sight romance work beyond the introductory stage is the 76-year-old acclaimed French New Wave director Claude Chabrol’s (“Les Biches”/”Story of Women”/”The Swindle”) supposedly 54th feature. It’s based on the novel by England’s crime writer maven Ruth Rendell and is cowritten by Chabrol and Pierre Leccia. Chabrol also based his superb thriller La Cérémonie (1995) on Rendell’s novel.

The Bridesmaid is a compelling watch because of Chabrol’s stylish visualization, well-crafted ease in how easily the film’s indulgences touch us inside and the filmmaker’s keen eye for looking up and down his characters to get a handle on them that is deliciously dark. However the greatness achieved in how refreshingly lighthearted it moves about as a poignant family drama peters out somewhat when the macabre parts of it get introduced after a fast start and it no longer seems right to be so lighthearted as it moves from its set-up into its erotically chilling but unfulfilling twisty payoff.

Philippe Tardieu (Benoît Magimel) is the twentysomething oldest child of his kind-hearted worrywart widowed hairdresser mother Christine (Aurore Clément). The reliable good son is gainfully employed in a small real-estate contractor’s firm selling bathroom fixture remodeling jobs and the doting son resides with mum in her comfortable house on the small unnamed seacoast town in the outskirts of Paris. The caring Philippe, who is always eager to please, looks after his petit-bourgeois mum with the affection of a loving husband. Also living there are Philippe’s unreliable nose ring wearing younger sister Patricia (Anna Mihalcea) and the not too bright but more reliable older sister Sophie (Solène Bouton), who is about to marry the young town clerk and volunteer fireman Jacky (Eric Seigne)–an awkward, nervous guy with tics and a healthy taste for a romp in the sack.

Christine asks her children’s permission to offer a housewarming present to her new fiftyish beau, local businessman Gérard Courtois (Bernard Le Coq), that happens to be the classical Roman stone bust of the head of Flora that was in their garden and was a gift from their late father. The only one who really cares is Philippe, but he says nothing not wanting to hurt his mother’s feelings. Gérard, who is not overwhelmed with the gift though he pretends to be, takes the family out to a neighborhood Italian restaurant and then never calls Christine again after going to Italy on a business trip and then moving out after his divorce without letting on where he now resides. Since Philippe didn’t like him on first sight and thought he was a creep that mum would be better off without, he feels relieved that his mum takes the rejection stoically. By accident Philippe stumbles upon Gérard’s new address when seeing a client and steals back the bust, which he now keeps hidden in his bedroom closet, kisses on the lips from time to time and sleeps with it–apparently finding it to fit his idea of ideal beauty.

At Sophie’s wedding Philippe falls for the classical look of the beautiful but mysterious bridesmaid Senta (Laura Smet), who eerily enough resembles the bust. Senta is Jacky’s weird and fanciful talkative actress/model cousin, who comes over to Philippe’s house in a rainstorm after the wedding and easily seduces him by giving him the best bang he ever had. The impulsive chick soon declares that the pair are destined to be together, and she’s madly in love with him. Philippe starts sleeping with her all night in the basement of a large, rundown musty country estate, where her estranged tango dancing stepmother Rita and her Spanish lover Pablo live two floors above. Senta mentions her Icelandic mother died in childbirth and Rita moved in with her dad and treated her like dirt, and dad then abandoned them but left Senta the house.

Though the sex is good, Philippe is turned off when Senta further tells him her extraordinary stories about her adventurous past life that includes running away to smoke hashish in Morocco at 16, being an exotic dancer in NYC, having lesbian affairs, doing everything sexually possible and that she once appeared in a film with John Malkovich–though the scene was cut because “Malkovich wasn’t good.”

The romantically delusional Senta asks the repressed Philippe to prove his undying love by performing several tasks that include planting a tree, writing a poem, randomly murdering a stranger and sleeping with someone of the same sex. Now even the straight-laced but slightly twisted and vulnerable Philippe figures out this honey might be joking and probably has some serious mental issues as her erratic behavior sends up some heavy warning signals. The two separate for a short time until Philippe figures he came up with a clever way into fooling her that he killed someone. After reading a newspaper story about a homeless man by the docks killed overnight, Philippe tells her he did it. Senta believes he proved his love for her and their sex life is better than ever, and things seem back to normal until she wants to prove her love for him and things start getting violently bizarre.

Its observations are unsettling and insidiously Hitchcockian, yet they only offer superficial comments about such demanding psychological things as what are the breaking points of the emotionally needy obsessives, the morbidly delusional, the fragile vulnerable types and those lost souls without roots. But its observations about misplaced love cut deeper and are what give The Bridesmaid its zing. It’s through the clean-cut normal looking career-minded and seemingly stable mama’s boy Philippe that we see the lesson being taught here. He gets derailed in his life’s pursuits and crushed like stone because inside he aches for only women whose hearts are made of stone (both Flora and Senta) and when he thinks he has found love (whether in his family or personal love) he cruelly learns that he was only chasing after something delusional and his love is either misplaced or not appreciated or taken for granted or used as if it were a business deal.

Again Chabrol comes up with a strong film and has some fun ripping into traditional families and pointing out how questionable is their loving ways. The slasher part seems to be a red herring, that Chabrol is not as interested in as he is in observing the family.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”