Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Voila  La Ceremonie, the corking little Claude Chabrol thriller that the Siren watched this weekend. Brilliant acting from Sandrine Bonnaire and Isabelle Huppert, as one expects. Nice surprise was Jacqueline Bisset, who was wonderful in her role as a upper haute bourgeiose, pure Whit Stillman by way of Brittany. (Jacqueline, may I ask politely--where was all that ability in "The Deep" or "Class"?) This movie was a huge hit in France in 1995, so as usual the Siren is a little late. La Ceremonie is done in the European manner, quiet and purposeful, where the personalities on view make you know something is coming, but the something takes its time arriving. The Siren says no more. It's really best to see this movie as she did, knowing as little about it as possible. Don't even read the DVD jacket copy. Just pop it in and enjoy.


But if you have seen it ... how about those credits? Marvelous twist. Posted by Picasa


Uncle Gustav said...


I think "La Cérémonie" is nothing less than a masterpiece. Not since Buñuel has a screenplay been so sharply and intricately manipulated to editorialize class and culture.

Note how the rich can barely feed themselves, while the maid and postal worker casually pick mushrooms for a meal. The scenario is packed with such subtle references.

(Didn't the maid tell Bisset well in advance that she wouldn't be there to work on Sunday for the party?)

Chabrol and co-writer Caroline Eliacheff deviated sharply from Ruth Rendell's novel. In her original, which was a plea against illiteracy and boorishness, the maid would not so much as touch a book. Chabrol added the scene of her retreating to the deaf guide. I've always felt that he was implying her entire condition (and that of the postal worker) was a metaphor for the damaging effect the upper class has had on the lower.

(Blind to their own suffocating influence, the affluent partygoers assuage their guilt by reciting Nietzsche.)

Chabrol's been busy expanding on the view of the family presented here (second marriages, step-siblings); by the time we get to "Merci pour le chocolat" and especially "La Fleur de mal" the bourgeoisie are hopelessly inbred. (Who else would have them?)

Many people saw "La Cérémonie" differently than I did. One friend began lending me tapes of terrible exploitation movies about psychotic women terrorizing people, because he thought that was what attracted me to Chabrol's picture.

I saw it twice when it came out, and at least ten times since. And despite all that, I still jump at the sound of that first gunshot.

The Siren said...


Ah, your interview with Chabrol was the best thing I found on the Web about this movie! I will add the link. I loved this movie, absolutely loved it. Now mind you, the second I saw Rendell's name in the credits I knew how this was going to end, and only wondered if any of the family would survive. I do think some sympathy is intended for them, especially for Melinda who has real kindness, but no ability to show it without condenscension ... that scene where she eagerly tells Bonnaire, "Oh, I saw a program about women JUST LIKE YOU ..." I mean, you want to crawl under the carpet.

And I also think Chabrol doesn't flinch from what monsters Huppert & Bonnaire are. That scene in the car, where Huppert describes what happened to her child, was the most disturbing thing in the movie to me. Your article says the actress & director decided that the child's death was an accident, but the monologue didn't play that way to me at all, it played as a big self-justifying lie told by a psychopath.

Mr. Campaspe made the same point about the Sunday party that you did. Yep, Bisset was told, but if you remember she just says vaguely that it's nice to help people. Clearly she's assuming that when the time comes she'll take precedence over any quixotic charity activities.

And in the end there's the family, in the living room, watching Don Quixote while their doom is being prepared for them just steps away. Oh boy. If there is a better metaphor for what the so-called First World is doing right now, I sure haven't seen it.

So tell me please - what did you think of the rather literal deus ex machina at the very end?

Uncle Gustav said...


In the event that anyone who hasn't seen the film is snooping around these messages, suffice it to say that the end, umm...justified the means.

Note: in the opening, Bonnaire appears in overexposed brightness; at the end she submerges into the darkness.

Note 2: Watching Don Quixote in the living room, Cassel is wearing a tux (!).

Melinda: kind? Yes, to a point. But recall the way she threw that hankie back at Huppert after fixing her car.

Mrs. Flickhead was very disturbed by the film, and felt a great deal of compassion for the family. No hardcore cineaste she, Mrs. F. avoids both Huppert and Bonnaire films to this day. (She wouldn't even bend for Sandrine in Rivette's "Jeanne la Pucelle.")

When I explained that the only reason the family wanted to pick up the tab on the maid's eyeglasses and driving lessons was so that she could labor more efficiently for them, Mrs. F. blew a raspberry my way and that was that.

Eerie effect before the shootout: the dissolve as they sip tea at the kitchen table.

The Siren said...


See, this movie is a bit of a Rorschach. When Melinda tossed the hanky back at Jeanne, my thought was that this careless (not ill-intentioned) gesture was going to cost her big time. And I thought the family dressing up for the opera (all except the son!) was cute, since they are out in the country, but Mr. Campaspe thought it just showed how pretentious they all were.

That scene with Bonnaire and the phonics book was just about the only moment of wholehearted sympathy I had with her, so I thought perhaps Chabrol & Eliacheff must have thought of that too. Willful ignorance would have grabbed all sympathy from Sophie.

Exiled in NJ said...

"It's really best to see this movie as she did, knowing as little about it as possible."

Now that is a problem! Rendell or Barbara Vine, her other penname, is to me the finest writer of the last thirty years, and Judgement in Stone, along with Dark-Adapted Eye, her best work. I've not seen this film, and if I did, would have to rely on the subtitles.

I would find it difficult to identify Eunice Parchman in the photo. Eunice is a truly frightening creation. Her anger is directed at those who will unmask her by trying to help her. Unlike Flickhead, I don't necessarily see the book being a plea against illiteracy, unless Melinda, the one likeable Coverdale, is the mouthpiece of the author. Somehow I doubt that; Rendell is a writer who rarely places herself in her stories.

I must say, however, that you have whet my appetite, but if you hear teeth grinding some night, it is me, making comparisons to a favorite book.

Peter Nellhaus said...

OK OK OK, you win, I put it on my Netflix queue. I've been seeing some of the recent Chabrol on DVD lately, although I was more thrilled to see that Route to Corinth from 1968 is being made available.

The Siren said...

Exiled - I hadn't read that particular Rendell, though I thought A Dark-Adapted Eye was superb. Her "whydoneits" are wonderful, though uniformly incredibly depressing. I almost never approve of adaptations of favorite books, either. Usually Hollywood does a better job with a mediocre or even a bad book. But this French movie is really wonderful. I think you would just have to take it on its own terms. In Flickhead's interview Chabrol said he really liked Rendell (and I guess he had adapted one of her books before) and that while he hadn't spoken to her, he hoped she liked the film.

Peter: I was very, very pleasantly surprised at how sheerly enjoyable the movie was. I didn't even touch on how funny it is, in an extremely French, twisted sort of way. Huppert especially has great timing.

Uncle Gustav said...

Rendell's novel had been made into a movie before: "The Housekeeper" (1986) starring Rita Tushingham as Eunice (Sophie). Advertised at the time as an exploitation movie ("She Cooks, She Cleans, She Kills!"), it received some good reviews but nobody went to see it. As I remember, it had a limited release. By the time I was going to go, it was gone. Although it came out on vhs years ago, I still haven't seen the film.

Berlinbound said...

I haven't seen this - but will certainly do so now ... Huppert and Bonnaire are favorites and it sounds exciting!

feriatus said...

The film is is good, but the novel is better.
The first line is unforgettable: "Eunice Parchman killed
the Coverdale family
because she could not
read or write."

Exiled in NJ said...

So many modern popular authors write with their eyes turned toward Hollywood, but Rendell writes as if she is making a movie. She gives little exposition, preferring to let the readers find things out for themselves, and she flirts with the readers' minds when it comes to time. I would love to see someone make The Tree of Hands.

Speaking of servants, and our host's posting at Cinemarati, how about a DVD of Tovarich?

feriatus said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
feriatus said...

So many modern popular authors write with their eyes turned toward Hollywood, but Rendell writes as if she is making a movie.

Well said, comrade.