Friday, July 28, 2006

La Demoiselle d'honneur - Movie Review

La Demoiselle d'honneur 2004! (Took 'em long enough.)

Again with the delayed foreign flicks!!! (Damn distributors.) Especially since the latest victim is a lovely little thriller helmed by the maestro himself, Claude Chabrol, adapted from one of our favorite crime novelists, Ruth Rendell and starring a major hottie, Benoît Magimel with a blistering turn by Laura Smet! (Smet?)

La Demoiselle d’honneur” is a very effective examination into a twisted psyche set amidst a seemingly quiet suburban landscape. And speaking of landscapes, we fell for this well crafted gem’s charms from the opening tracking shot beginning with a washed out color palette whizzing by a spare rural setting, gathering steam and rapidly transforming into an industrial landscape and finally the quiet suburban milieu of the film. Or rather, not so quiet. The opening scene reveals the grief of a family waiting to hear word on their missing daughter. As the camera pulls back, we see this newscast of familial grief being watched by the Tardieu family in the quiet of their home.

The Tardieu family consists of a hardworking mother who runs a small hair salon out of her house and her three grown children. The eldest is Philippe, a salesman for indoor furnishings who helps support his mother and younger sisters. The sisters are Sophie, a bride to be and the rebellious Patricia who enjoys piercings and pilfering loose change. At Sophie’s wedding, we encounter the cousin of the groom, one Stéphanie who prefers to be called “Senta”. As the bridal party is posing for the requisite photos, her smoldering glance lands upon Philippe. And we do mean “smoldering”.

Thus begins a dark tale of a twisted young psyche intent on finding love, capturing it, possessing it and ultimately consuming it. For Senta is no common slutty bridesmaid looking for a quick slap and tickle under the wedding canopy. She is a man eating Lulu of a character, whose fiery imagination and controlling nature threaten to ruin all those around her.

As Senta, relative newcomer Laura Smet (Smet?) sinks her claws into the unsuspecting Philippe and never lets go. We were equally seduced. She is a wonder. A little research revealed the origin of her unfortunate last name – Smet is of course the original last name to the famed French rock idol, Johnny Hallyday – her father who sired the talented Laura with the equally talented actress Nathalie Baye. A great combo, a great parentage and the source of a great young screen talent. Laura never falters along a very tricky terrain. As any lover of Film Noir will tell you, the role of Femme Fatale is a dangerous slot to fill. From Barbara Stanwyck to Lana Turner to Kathleen Turner, it requires the skills of a true actress and sexy screen presence to pull off completely. It is no small measure of our respect and admiration to state bluntly that Laura Smet has the goods to match these infamous Femme Fatales in film history.

As the victim of her deadly charms, the incredibly sexy Benoît Magimel is the perfect foil. The good young man who holds his estrogen laden household together, and is known for his own charm and smooth talking ways with his customers – falls head over heels in lust with Laura and dooms himself to a dangerous game. Magimel has been a sturdy fixture in French cinema for several years, starting out as a teenager at the ripe old age of fourteen. Which is roughly the equivalent of the age gap between himself and his famed Oscar winning Baby’s MommaJuliette Binoche. (The hussy. Good for her! He’s a dreamboat.)

Here he does more than play the foil to a sexy vamp. The film relies heavily on his ability to project calm amidst the storm. When we first encounter him, he seems to be the epitome of reliability. Hard working, dutiful son, concerned brother. But by the end of the film, we need to believe in his complete and total fidelity to a woman whose sole concern in life seems to be her own warped sense of drama. Magimel is wonderful in his ability to ground his character amidst some decidedly grandiose moments.

As with any good thriller, a palpable sense of doom lingers in the air. It takes a true maestro like the great Claude Chabrol to carefully tread between the everyday and the macabre. Chabrol has become legendary for his awe inspiring sense of control over the medium. It is precisely this control that allows him to delve into some very twisted characters and almost absurdist moments without once crossing the line into camp or schlock. His clear, cool hand guides this fairly ordinary group of people across the border into a world of terror.

By the time we realize that Senta not only lives in her own daydream existence, but she is so convinced and convincing regarding the lies upon lies she spins, she feels the need to draw all those around her into her delusions. We watch helplessly as Philippe surrenders completely to her wishes and together they begin to live out her nightmare. “La Demoiselle d'honneur” is one of the best films of the year and a tight wire trip through a modern Film Noir landscape. A gem. Bless you all!

(Endnote: If you enjoyed "La Demoiselle d'honneur", and you will, we encourage you to rent his earlier classic "La Cérémonie", another brilliant thriller taken from the pen of Ruth Rendell! Enjoy.)

Directed by Claude Chabrol
Written by Claude Chabrol & Pierre Leccia
Based on a novel by Ruth Rendell

Benoît Magimel as Philippe Tardieu
Laura Smet as Stéphanie “Senta” Bellange
Aurore Clément as Christine Tardieu
Bernard Le Coq as Gérard Courtois
Solène Bouton as Sophie Tardieu
Anna Mihalcea as Patricia Tardieu
Suzanne Flon as Madame Crespin
Eric Seigne as Jacky
Thomas Chabrol as Lieutenant José Laval
Isild Barth as Rita
Mazen Kirwan as Pablo

Cinematography by Eduardo Serra
Film Editing by Monique Fardoulis
Original Music by Matthieu Chabrol
Production Design by Françoise Benoît-Fresco
Costume Design by Sandrine Bernard & Mic Cheminal


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