Dispensable Chabrol, at least as compared to his release from last year, Merci Pour le Chocolat.Though there is a sameness in its quiet, low-thrill/no-frill demeanor, and even the paucity of much of a mystery, the build up and suspense of the last film — not to say there isn’t any here — is just so much more paramount in that outing and not this one. The mystery here is a domestic soap opera about a philandering pharmacist who disapproves of his wife’s political ambitions (she’s in a long line of local politicians) and may or may not be behind a smear campaign of their family. Both are re-married, with each having adult children — the husband’s son just returned from a job in Chicago, and the wife’s daughter (the adorable Mélanie Doutey) attending college locally — and the step-siblings are romantically linked as well, which may or may not be part of the reason for his taking a job in the U.S. Rounding out the house is an aunt, or perhaps a great-aunt, who at the film’s opening is kneeling over a dead man’s body, and who harbors nightmarish reveries of the war and an old family scandal (hitting the fans again with her niece’s political agenda). Chabrol capably cultivates some genuine tension, but the film’s tendency to mute out most of the applicable mystery and suspense demurs any overall effect. On the plus side, it features a menacing score, and some really magnificent cinematography by Eduardo Serra, as the camera crawls and looms while still maintaining an eye for the composition. (The best shot consists of a piece of foreshadowing, as the roving camera frames a birdcage over two of the characters.) Outside of the relatively low-key climax, the multiple allusions and implications of a “souvenir” (initially brought on by the opening song) end without closure or much clarity. With Nathalie Baye, Suzanne Flon, Benoît Magimal, Bernard Le Coq, and Thomas Chabrol.[Worth-seeing.]
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Starz Denver Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Starz Denver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Chicago Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.