Chabrol: Two Classic Thrillers from the Legendary Director Review
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Film historians and fans of director Claude Chabrol will be excited to discover that two of his more recent films have been released on a two-disc DVD: La Demoiselle D’Honneur (2004) and Merci Pour le Chocolate (2000). Chabrol, who died in September at the age of 80, is considered as part of the French New Wave cinema generation, which defied the classical film style of the late 1950s as well as the existing social norm.

Chabrol often poked fun of the upper class and the family institution. He viewed the latter social structure as one of the biggest frauds ever invented. These feelings are evident in the two films.

La Demoiselle D’Honneur, which translates to The Bridesmaid, centers on a young man, Philippe ( Benoit Magimel), who still lives at home and has helped his mother raise his two sisters after his father’s death. When one gets married, a bridesmaid, Senta (wonderfully played by Laura Smet), passionately falls for him, and though he detects her psychosis, the normally sensible Philippe just can’t stay away from her. Philippe has his own issues, as he displays a perverted attachment to a stone head of the goddess Flora, which he thinks looks like Senta.

  
 
Mika (Isabelle Huppert), the heiress to a chocolate company, remarries her first husband, André Polonski (Jacques Dutronc), a well-respected concert pianist, in Merci Pour le Chocolate. She gets along well with his 18-year-old son, Guillaume (Rodolphe Pauly), whose mother suddenly died in a car accident.

Meanwhile, a young piano student, Jeanne Pollet (Anna Mouglalis), learns that there was almost a mix-up at the clinic where she was born. Though it was supposedly straightened out, she can’t get it out of her mind that she could be the daughter of André Polonski. She contacts him, and a bond between the two develops. After all, she has quite a bit of musical talent, while Guillaume has none.

These two films centering on murder and mental illness use a 1950s mystery style in a contemporary setting. Both keep the audience engaged, eagerly awaiting the unexpected. But, unfortunately, that is where both films falter. There are no story twists; the outcomes are obvious.

Fans of Chabrol may respond that the director uses character—as opposed to plot—to keep the story moving. In fact, he admits in an interview in the special features that often plot isn’t that significant. The audience identifies with the resolution based on the character. That’s true, except, in these films, the psychotics are the only characters that are fully developed. We never learn what motivates the supporting characters, who are also troubled on some level. For example, what is it in Philippe’s psyche that finds Senta so alluring?

The scenery in both films is gorgeous, and the commitment to detail is noteworthy. However, I was disappointed with both of these films. If plot is sacrificed, development of more than one character has to make up for it. Still, I admit that I was unfamiliar with Chabrol’s work—so maybe I’ll try one of his earlier films.

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