Ce´re´monie, La

Weekly Alibi

DIRECTED BY: Claude Chabrol

REVIEWED: 04-02-97

The new film, La Cérémonie, may play with your expectations of what a suspense thriller should be. Forget shock value for the sake of itself. Instead, this Gallic import is filled with a somber tension that carries itself hypnotically throughout the entire film--like the white noise of television after you've fallen half asleep. French new wave director Claude Chabrol, whose career is laden with thrillers that also function as social commentary, is considered France's Alfred Hitchcock. It's obvious he has learned much from Hitchcock as he slowly unravels the suspense of his story ever so carefully.

The film takes place in Brittany, where Catherine (Jacqueline Bisset) hires the withdrawn Sophie (Sandrine Bonnaire) to care for her comfortably numb bourgeois family. The class span is wide between the two women. Catherine basks in her money, perhaps rubbing it in a bit as she gives Sophie an overzealous tour of her immense château. Sophie, on the other hand, is oblivious, almost mechanical, in her behavior. Clearly, it is her main purpose in life to serve like a listless proletariat ... or is it? The family is relieved that Sophie appears content. She doesn't read books; instead she reads the talking heads of television. The children accuse their parents of wanting Sophie to become paralyzed by television. Of course this makes sense. The best workers are always those who are complacent in their world.

Sophie is the best housekeeper the family has ever had. But soon her anti-socialism and gross lack of social skills begin to get her into some trouble. It's not as if she doesn't want to be social. She's just too busy hiding her illiteracy from the family. She wanders about town trying to decipher shopping lists and hangs up the telephone when she can't retrieve information that would require her to read. If she appears mute to the family, it is because they are blind to her obvious problem.

Sophie eventually sparks up a friendship with Jeanne, (Isabelle Huppert of Amateur) a wild child who loathes the upper class and harbors a distinct sense of rebellion. They share the common bond of both having committed crimes in the past that they scarcely got away with. Isabelle Huppert strays away from her usual delicate roles and comes out roaring like a lion; she is hardly recognizable. The friendship between these two women has an inherent quality of danger to it. Jeanne represents the ultimate horror because she is unreasonable and helplessly chaotic. She's a time bomb waiting to explode at the upper middle class, which she loathes. She ignites her sense of rebellion in Sophie, pushing the meek servant to stand up for herself. The family resents Jeanne, and they forbid Sophie to have her in their house. In return, Sophie despises the family, noting all of their trivial problems and says, "If I only had a tenth of what they have, I'd be happy."

La Cérémonie is filled with a vicious psychological tension that admittedly isn't always easy to sit through. You just know that something atrocious is lurking in the corner, waiting to happen. Chabrol utilizes class differences to emphasize the brewing tension. In reality, Chabrol is making social commentary. He brings to light, in a horrific manner, the blatant problems that exist between the classes in modern-day France. Though Communism has recently taken a dive, Marxist ideology is still alive and well.

--Karla Esquivel

Other Films by Claude Chabrol
Ceremonie, La
The Swindle

Film Vault Suggested Links
Ceremonie, La
The Stendahl Syndrome

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