THE BRIDESMAID (Claude Chabrol, 2004)

Claude Chabrol’s dark, turbulent La demoiselle d’honneur, adapted by Chabrol and Pierre Leccia from the novel by Ruth Rendell, seems especially lame coming in between his Flower of Evil (2003) and The Comedy of Power (2006), both excellent. It’s a charmless variation on Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951).
     Philippe Tardieu is stuck on a stone-cold woman: Flora, the bust that his late father gave his mother, which adorns their back yard on a pedestal. When the widow, with the permission of her three children, gives the head away to Gérard, her current beau, Philippe steals it back and hides it in his room, every now and then uncloseting it for on-the-mouth kisses and a sleep-together. At his sister’s wedding, the boy meets bridesmaid Stéphanie, who calls herself Senta and who reminds him of Flora. They fall in love. However, Senta, it turns out, is at least as perverse as Philippe, whom she asks to prove his love for her by murdering a stranger. When he takes advantage of a nearby killing by telling Senta he did it, she reciprocates. Her murder is for real, though, and it’s not her first.
     Benoît Magimel plays Philippe, and his inept acting robs the moody proceedings of all credibility. The central issue is that Philippe, who is careful, hardworking, even fastidious, throws caution to the winds for the sake of this girl. However, Magimel’s performance finds Philippe plunging himself into Senta’s crazy world without the requisite complexity or ambiguity; he’s a pushover for passion. The transitions—such as Philippe’s decision to boast of murder—burst out of the blue.
     There are always sly touches in a Chabrol film. But these are not enough to achieve a reasonable result when Magimel renders the core matter thin and arbitrary.

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