2004, NR, 110 min. Directed by Claude Chabrol. Starring Benoît Magimel, Laura Smet, Aurore Clément, Bernard Le Coq, Solène Bouton, Anna Mihalcea, Michel Duchaussoy, Suzanne Flon.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Dec. 15, 2006
You might think that by now the men of France and America had seen enough movies to know better than get involved with batty women – no matter how beautiful or compelling the gals might be. At best, these romances wind up as pitiful cases of l'amour fou; at worst, they culminate as tawdry items in the local police blotter. Chabrol, the French auteur whose penchant for creating movies full of psychological tension often causes him to be compared to Hitchcock, knows a thing or two about femmes fatales – mostly, that men are eternal suckers for their come-hither gaze. The Bridesmaid, Chabrol's latest film to reach the States, is based on a novel by Ruth Rendell (whose fiction also provided the source material for the best film of his late career, La Cérémonie). In it, Magimel plays a constrained young man named Philippe who works as a salesman for a plumbing contractor and lives at home with his widowed mother and two younger sisters. All of them, except Philippe it seems, are itching to escape this house-hold with its overbearing floral wallpaper and petit-bourgeois routine. Philippe is content to remain at home in the company of a stone garden statue of a woman's head to which he has developed a fetishistic attachment. At the wedding of one of his sisters, Philippe and the substitute bridesmaid Senta (Smet), a cousin of the groom, are instantly attracted. When Philippe leaves the party early offering Senta a ride home which she rejects, Senta then follows him home in the rain, arriving soaked and with a justifiable reason to remove her clothes. From there, it's a quick descent into passionate love and undying commitment, even though it's obvious that Senta's background is a jumble of self-invented half-truths and fabrications. Maybe her unbridled ardor serves as a lure to Philippe's natural reserve, or maybe it's simply a matter of great sex, but the guy's clearly lost his head over this girl. Chabrol doles out information gradually and sparingly, as is his style. The final payoff is a good one and relates to something tossed out in the film's opening minutes. Still, this is middling Chabrol, not as tight and suspenseful as his best work. We know from the outset that Senta (if that's even her real name) is a head case, the only question that remains regards the extent of her derangement. And Philippe's attachment to the stone head he hides in his closet is uncomfortably perverse. The tightly wound Magimel is always a delight to watch and Smet (the daughter of actress Nathalie Baye and pop star Johnny Hallyday) is an understandable beguilement. Chabrol's film stands as a reminder of the madness that lurks in plain sight, and apparently there can't be too many cautionary tales about the dangers of daffy dames. AFS@Dobie