Friday, January 05, 2007

L'Ivresse du pouvoir / (A Comedy of Power) - Movie Review

L’Ivresse du pouvoir (A Comedy of Power) 2006

Last year that old trickster non pareil, Claude Chabrol gave us the fabulously sexy and dark “La Demoiselle d’honneur” which we adored. Now, stepping clear of the cold calculating thriller genre, Chabrol returns with a cool, crisp, comedy of manners which has been mangled by the U.S. customs department and retitled “A Comedy of Power”. Well, we prefer the straight translation: “Power Drunk” or “The Drunkenness of Power” or maybe “The Intoxication of Power”? Oh, hell. Fine. We’ll go with “A Comedy of Power”. Confusing?

Well, it should for those poor unsuspecting creatures we hear exist that attend movies like sidling up to a vending machine: “Hey, this says ‘Comedy’ - let’s go!” these are the folks that should be forewarned. The comedy is muted, but very real in this tale of a crusading magistrate in Paris that attempts to bring down an all powerful and filthy rich branch of the government that is bleeding money into the presidents silk lined pockets. Inspired in part by the famed “Elf Affair”, we are positive that this sort of debauchery could only happen in Europe.

The divine Isabelle Huppert has a hell of a good time portraying the almost James Bondian monikered heroine, one Jeanne Charmant-Killman who is indeed quite charming in her method of killing every corrupt man in sight. Elegant, aloof, with a withering glance and sporting a pair of blood red gloves and matching purse to and fro the streets of our beloved ParisHuppert is nothing short of incredible. Following her tour de force performance in last year’s “Gabrielle”, this lady is on a roll!

As Michel Humeau, the head honcho who must first face the music, François Berléand delivers an equally excellent performance. A mass of nervous tics, allergies and ailments – he is simply horrified to learn that anybody could fail to respect his position and power. Amidst repeated complaints of “Do you know who I am?” – he is carted off to prison and unceremoniously manhandled in an attempt to bring him down a notch or two. When he comes to meet his challenger, Madame Charmant-Killman he bluster and bravado have turned to outright hostility. Not the wisest choice.

Their first scene together sets the tone for this very intelligent, literate, fascinating and entertaining movie. We watch spellbound as Isabelle Huppert dominates her small office with her trusty male assistant clattering away at the keyboard, recording every exchange. Although she will not tolerate any lies or interference with her case, she does so without a raised tone or angry outburst. Humeau begins to grasp the totality of her investigative skills, and despite a desperate denial or two, he slowly becomes aware that their interview is only the beginning of the end for his fellow cohorts in corporate crime.

Now, while this might have played out like a court room melodrama, Chabrol is far too intelligent and skilled a director to permit that to happen. He is more interested in examining the delusions of the self-entitled who assume they are above the law, and conversely the defenders of justice who are not above dabbling in power struggles of their own. We begin to meet the other players in Madame Charmant-Killman’s life: her loving but beleaguered husband, their unemployed nephew who moves in with them during the trial, her business acquaintances who willingly or unwillingly insinuate themselves further into the scandal and a potential rival or two with a few secrets up their sleeves.

What we enjoyed most about this lovely film, was the rich tapestry of characters and genuinely crackling dialogue that propelled our interest in what could have been a very mundane storyline. For honestly, the idea that some corporate bigwigs are lining their pockets with the not-so-petty cash is hardly revelatory in today’s global climate. What is unique is the thought and care that Chabrol and his co-writer Odile Barski imbue the characters with.

These are complicated people who are not afraid to speak their minds. From the frustrated husband played solidly by Robin Renucci, who must contend with his wife’s sudden celebrity status as a ball busting magistrate while he hides his own pain for the sake of duty.

To the slacker nephew portrayed charmingly by Thomas Chabrol who reveals himself to be the most surprisingly trustworthy of all. And yes, he is indeed the real life son to the director Claude and the very talented actress Stéphane Audran, the star of many a Chabrol hit. We loved the exchanges between Jeanne and her nephew Félix that demonstrated a quality seen all too rarely in films today. Intelligent and interesting conversations between two adults. As her sounding board, Jeanne begins to rely on Félix not only for his ability to listen, but also for his own askew take on the matters at hand.

The wonderful supporting cast is carefully selected to represent the various players and blissfully deliver the goods in their brief but key scenes. Philippe Duclos as the elegantly reptilian Jean-Baptiste Holéo who almost succeeds in charming Jeanne throughout his own interrogation, but underestimates her resolve is particularly fine.

And as the replacement to the embittered Humeau, the handsome and rascally pop star (!) and actor Patrick Bruel who portrays Jacques Sibaud, the former friend and colleague to Jeanne. Their relationship was one of the most interesting aspects to this film already rich with fascinating layers. Obviously attracted to each other, and more than willing to play a slight game of cat and mouse – they are far too savvy to mix business with pleasure when her red leather glove drops.

L’Ivresse du pouvoir” is truly a marvel. The combination of sharp script, first rate acting and polished directing by one of the great living auteurs makes this the first great film of the year. We encourage you to run out and see it. For how often can you say you just saw a wonderfully entertaining flick about greed, the judicial process and the abuse of corporate power? Hopefully, not too often. Bless you all!

Directed by Claude Chabrol
Written by Odile Barski and Claude Chabrol

Isabelle Huppert as Jeanne Charmant-Killman
François Berléand as Michel Humeau
Patrick Bruel as Jacques Sibaud
Marilyne Canto as Erika
Robin Renucci as Philippe
Thomas Chabrol as Félix
Jean-François Balmer as Boldi
Pierre Vernier as Président Martino
Jacques Boudet as Descarts
Philippe Duclos as Jean-Baptiste Holéo
Roger Dumas as René Lange
Yves Verhoeven as Benoît

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



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