The upper-class owner of a gallery, Catherine Lelievre, hires the efficient and quiet maid Sophie to work in the family manor in the French countryside. Her husband Georges Lelievre, who is... See full summary »
Betty and Victor are a pair of scam artists. One day Betty brings in Maurice, a treasurer of a multinational company. Maurice is due to transfer 5 millions francs out of Switzerland, and ... See full summary »
In Lausanne, the aspirant pianist Jeanne Pollet has lunch with her mother Louise Pollet, her boyfriend Axel and his mother. Lenna leans that when she was born, a nurse had mistakenly told ... See full summary »
In a small Breton town, a 10-year-old girl is found murdered. René, her art teacher, a professional painter, is the last person to have seen her alive. The inspector in charge of the ... See full summary »
Antoine de Caunes
Paul, an irritable and stressed-out hotel manager, begins to gradually develop paranoid delusions about his wife's infidelity. As he succumbs to green-eyed jealousy, his life starts to ... See full summary »
Charles Masson, an advertising executive, is having an affair with Laura, the wife of his best friend, the architect François Tellier. Charles strangles Laura when one of their S&M games ... See full summary »
The upper-class owner of a gallery, Catherine Lelievre, hires the efficient and quiet maid Sophie to work in the family manor in the French countryside. Her husband Georges Lelievre, who is an opera lover, her daughter Melinda and her teenage son Gilles welcome Sophie and appreciate her work. Sophie soon befriends the postmistress Jeanne, who is a bad egg and encourages Sophie to rebel against her employers, but the maid stays submissive. However, Sophie is ashamed of a secret and feels uncomfortable in many situations, finding a way to hide her secret. When Georges tells Sophie that he does not want Jeanne in his house, Sophie stands up to him. Melinda discovers her secret and Sophie blackmails her, but Melinda tells her parents what happened. Georges fires Sophie and she returns to the house later with Jeanne on the rampage. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Claude Chabrol, one of the leading lights of the French New Wave, faded into a series of unimaginative throwaway flicks and obscurity (peppered with moments of worthiness such as Blood Sisters )until storming once again into the limelight with this claustrophobic psycho-thriller adaptation.
Like Heavenly Creatures and Fun this film is anchored around the destructively intense relationship between two female leads: the apparently insipid family housemaid Sophie (Sandra Bonnaire) and the sparky but cumulatively obnoxious postmistress Jeanne (Isabelle Huppert). They both, it transpires, have potentially murderous secrets in their past involving the incineration of unwanted relatives (a child and a father). After a roundabout, deliberately vague "confession" to each other they erupt into childish laughter and it seems their relationship is cemented in their mutual utter lack of remorse.
There is no guilt felt by either woman for any of their crimes be it spite, neglect, theft, opening other's mail, arson or even murder. This is because, primarily though Jeanne's obsessive class angst and Sophie's obsessive paranois, they justify their stance and actions with an "us against them the world" self-righteous fervour. Jeanne describes all her - increasingly erratic - behaviour as "a good deed" and the equaly unstable Sophie believes her.
Every role is acted impeccably by some of the leading lights of French cinema. Along with Bonnaire and Huppert, arguably the best French actresses working today, Jacqueline Bisset plays the bourgeouse lady of the house for whom Jeanne works. She sees herself as a kind and understanding employer, providing glasses and a television for her taciturn domestic. However this gesture is interpreted as patronising by the illiterate Jeanne.
It's through minot details such as this that character exposition arises . The two principals are painted with tiny, finely detailed brushstrokes while everyone around them is painted with broad strokes. This intentional disparity brings us uncomfortably closer to the unhinged worlds of Jeanne and Sophie. Worlds which are revealed slowly, subtly and manipulatively.
La Ceremonie is based of a Ruth Rendell novel, "Judgement in Stone". Rendell is an archetypal British writer and I think that if La Ceremonie was a British film with British actors and a skilful British director it would have been a very different, darker and more disturbing movie. Having said this, Chabrol, with his distinctly French sensibilities and post nouvelle vague expertise brings other qualities to the story and makes this a remarkable film. Chabrol avoided darkness for the sake of it in favour of a highly sophisticated level of characterisation and build-up. The climax, however it was filmed, could never be anything less than shocking.
Ultimately la Ceremonie presents a pessimistic view of humanity: bleak, depressing and disturbing. Even Bisset's family don't come off well with their selfishly consumereist and blinkered middle class lifestyles.This and the high degree of audience manipulation means the film leaves a bad taste in the mouth but there's no denying it's an egregious work of art.
27 of 33 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?