Judge Neal Solon: Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.
Our review of La Demoiselle D'Honneur / Merci Pour Le Chocolat, published January 13th, 2011, is also available.
"You're the one I've been looking for."—Senta to her new lover, Phillipe
A founding member of the French New Wave, director Claude Chabrol has made so many films over his more than fifty-year-long career that DVD Verdict has claimed to review his fiftieth feature in reviews of two different films, The Swindle and The Flower of Evil. Sheer numbers make his filmography, with shorts and television episodes interspersed among the features, nearly indecipherable and decidedly daunting. But students of film who find an entry point into Chabrol's oeuvre are richly rewarded. Chabrol has produced masterworks intermittently throughout his lengthy career; the question now is whether The Bridesmaid is among them.
Facts of the Case
Phillipe (Benoît Magimel, The Piano Teacher) is young professional, living at home with his mother and his sisters in a quaint French town. As the family first appears, the two sisters are watching news reports about a missing woman on television while Phillipe prods them to get ready to meet their mother's new boyfriend, Gérard (Bernard Le Coq, Caché), for dinner. After a bit of awkwardness as they all sit around the table, the conversation settles on the imminent marriage of one of Phillipe's sisters, Sophie. Sophie has found herself in a bit of a bind, being one bridesmaid short because her older brother's most recent relationship has ended. She has settled on using a young woman named Senta (Laura Smet) that she knows only through a friend and whom the rest of the family has never met.
When Phillipe meets Senta at the wedding, the attraction is immediate. When she shows up later at his house in rain-soaked clothing, finds him alone, and he invites her in, their fate is sealed. Phillipe quickly falls for Senta and all of her idiosyncrasies. But when she asks him to kill someone to prove his love and he humors her by making up a story about the death of a vagrant, her response makes it clear that her issues extend far beyond simple idiosyncrasies.
The preceding summary of The Bridesmaid in no way does justice to the film. It is long-winded, non-specific, and obscure; but it is necessarily so. Claude Chabrol excels at making films whose central plot points seem mundane but setting them in a world that is subtly askew.The Bridesmaid is a prime example of such a film. Its story is simple: Guy meets girl. Girl is weird. Guy sees past weirdness and claims he's in love. Of course, the truth is the guy might be staying because the sex is good. Clearly, these mundane plot points are not the reasons that The Bridesmaid succeeds.
The film succeeds because Chabrol sets these simple events in a world that at first seems normal but then slowly reveals itself as extreme. The viewer, watching the filmic world incrementally inch toward absurdity, is inclined to accept everything because it happens so slowly and so naturally. By being drawn into the film, the audience experiences what a man blinded by love (or lust) might, and exactly what Phillipe experiences in falling for Senta despite her obvious flaws. By the time the film reaches its climax, Phillipe and the audience are complicit in every action that Senta and the film take. So, when the extent of Senta's lunacy is finally revealed, the audience should feel somewhat repulsed. Not by Senta, per se, but because they deemed her harmless though something was clearly not quite right about her from the start. Compounding the repulsion that Phillipe, whose emotional experience most closely mirrors that of the audience, continues to be blind to Senta's true nature well after the audience has come to realize it—or perhaps he doesn't care. Either way, the audience has misjudged him, too.
For all of its frightening absurdity, the world that Chabrol has created for The Bridesmaid is not without humor. He speaks about humor in the most useful extra on the disc: a short, behind-the-scenes documentary aptly titled "Claude Chabrol Directs The Bridesmaid. He says the humor that he employs is something American directors have yet to master, and he's right. It is one of the reasons that Chabrol can seem so foreign to the uninitiated. In addition to toying with the audience by subverting convention in a seemingly conventional movie, Chabrol interjects random sequences through his films (such as one in The Bridesmaid where a policeman who is following Phillipe walks across the frame and steps firmly into a pile of dog droppings). The scene is not played broadly nor for laughs. The action takes place almost in the background. In fact, if one weren't watching closely, the event might go by unnoticed. But it is, in a sense, the humor of real life-a chuckle at someone else's misfortune during the course of an otherwise normal day. That Chabrol chooses to inject this sort of humor into an otherwise gloomy, if absurdist, film makes Phillipe and Senta's world seem simultaneously more real and more off-kilter. This isn't the world that typically appears on film.
Sadly, First Run Feature's presentation of The Bridesmaid is typical of the treatment of Chabrol's work in North America. Despite having the interesting behind-the-scenes featurette and an equally informative text interview with Chabrol, this disc doesn't live up to what should be basic standards for films on DVD—especially films as recent as this one. The audio is fairly strong, and the image is anamorphic. Yet, like a number of First Run Feature's releases, it appears that The Bridesmaid was imperfectly converted to NTSC from a PAL source, as there is a lot of noticeable ghosting and combing in movement-intensive scenes. While it's not enough to ruin the experience of the film, it is unfortunate and is a recurring issue in First Run Features DVDs.
For what it's worth, a New York Times article included in the press kit for 2004's The Bridesmaid counts it as Claude Chabrol's 54th "feature film." It is undoubtedly a well-crafted film, but its appeal is far less universal than Chabrol's most successful films. That's not to say that universality is a necessary for a film to achieve greatness; it's just that The Bridesmaid's structure almost guarantees that most people will either love it or hate it. Chabrol knowingly takes the conventions of foreign art films that make cinematic philistines shudder, and he playfully molds them into a film about a man who falls irretrievably in love with a crazy lady, all while the film moves at a drowsy pace. For those who can sit back and allow the film to reveal its secrets, The Bridesmaid will be a rewarding and, ultimately, disturbing film.
First Run Features should be commended for continuing to bring films such as this to American audiences. While it may not be everyone's cup of tea and First Run's transfers might need a little work, The Bridesmaid fits neatly into Claude Chabrol's oeuvre, and it deserves to be seen.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
• Behind the Scenes Documentary
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