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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
In "La Cérémonie" one of my favourite actresses, Virginie Ledoyen, not only gets to play a vital role, but also share a movie with her favourite actress (Isabelle Huppert). Huppert plays the other vital role.
A rich family is looking for a housekeeper. They choose Sophie (Sandrine Bonnaire), a slightly cold woman. Much sooner than the family we find out why she's so cold: she can't read. Her employers are Georges Lelièvre and his second wife. They have a son and (from his previous marriage) a daughter Melinda (played by Virginie). Melinda looks at Sophie as somebody who helps around the house (rather than 'the maid' as her parents call Sophie). Every now and then Melinda tells Sophie she shouldn't let her father walk over her. Melinda likes her father, but thinks of him as a fascist. She isn't the only one: the lady from the postal office (Jeanne, Huppert's role) thinks so too. But soon we find out she hates all the people with money. Georges hates Jeanne too: he's sure she opens and reads his mail. He also mistrusts her because her child was badly burnt (even though Jeanne was cleared - because there was no proof she wounded her child on purpose).
But wait, there's more: Sophie's father died in a fire. Sophie was interrogated, but soon dropped off the suspects' list. Sophie and Jeanne feel there's a bond between them because of their past ("nobody could prove we had anything to do with it"). The longer Sophie knows Jeanne, the ruder she becomes.
Director Claude Chabrol doesn't pass judgment. He doesn't tell us whether Jeanne and Sophie are guilty or not. He only shows them how this affects the rest of their lives and of the lives of the Lelièvre family. Because it soon becomes clear that Jeanne wants revenge and tries to get Sophie on her side. Jeanne is revengeful and full of contempt, Sophie gets ruder all the time, Georges expects too much of Sophie and his wife is incredibly posh. You don't get angels in this movie. But it is Melinda who is crucial to how you watch this film (she's the most 'normal' character). Melinda is the bridge between her parents and Sophie. It's Melinda who finds out Sophie's secret. And Melinda is the person responsible for the crescendo and denouement of the film.
Chabrol films this in his usual style: the camera likes to slide around the house. It observes. The viewer is the one who can decide who's to blame more for what happens. The viewer is always right. (Wait a second... no, I'll take that back.)
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