French director Claude Chabrol has been quietly churning out films since the mid-fifties and while he's quite renowned in critical circles, he's never really been given his due. With over sixty films to his credit, he's earned a reputation as the French Hitchcock, specializing mainly in mystery and suspense films and injecting many of his better pictures with a cynical sense of humor. His 2004 effort, La Demoiselle d'Honneur, or, The Bridesmaid, isn't on par with better known efforts such as The Unfaithful Wife or Innocents With Dirty Hands but it's still a well made and suspenseful picture with plenty to offer fans of his work.
The wealthy Tardieu family haven't had the best of luck when it comes to relationship both familiar and marital. Dad split early on leaving the mother, Christine (Aurore Clement), to look after the three kids, though she did eventually meet a new man named Gerard. Soon, however, he moves out and heads back to his home town – to make things even more unusual, he won't return her calls. Christine's youngest daughter, Sophie (Solene Bouton), is a typically rebellious teen who disregards her mothers advice and swipes money out of her purse when she doesn't think anyone is watching. The son, Philippe (Benoit Magimel) is a very introverted and strange young man who doesn't do a particularly good job of hiding his disdain for people in general, Gerard in particular. The only normal one out of the entire family is Patricia (Anna Mihalcea), a very pretty girl who seems to have her head screwed on properly – it's no surprise that she is soon to be wed.
As the wedding plans progress, Philippe meets Senta" (Laura Smet), one of his sister's bridesmaids. The two show and instant attraction to one another, although like Philippe, Senta is also rather strange and introverted but that doesn't stop her from telling him that she wants to spend eternity with him after knowing him for roughly twenty-four hours or so. From there, as their strange relationship progresses, Senta explains to Philippe that there are four ways that he can prove his love to her and she to him – they can plant a tree, they can write one another a poem, they can have sex with another member of the same sex, or they can each kill someone. These last two set off a couple of red flags for Philippe. Things get complicated when a local girl who Senta obviously doesn't like turns up dead. Philippe, in jest, tells Senta that he killed the girl for her, and she responds in turn by telling him she's killed Gerard. Philippe soon finds out that Senta is lying about Gerard's murder, but that's not the only secret she's hiding from home which he'll soon find out the hard way.
Based on the novel of the same name by famous mystery author Ruth Rendell (he also adopted La Ceremonie from one of her books), Chabrol's adaptation once again finds him telling us a tale of the twisted upper class. Many of his best known films deal with the wealthy, painting many of them as spoiled and unworthy of their success and in a sense looking down on them. With this film he returns to that familiar theme, exploiting the dysfunctional side of the Tardieu's and showing us that each one of the family members has their own unique set of quirks and unhealthy traits. Philippe, in particular, is an interesting character as he presents himself very matter-of-factly and as a no nonsense type of guy but underneath his rather cold exterior he's obviously very lonely which makes his attraction to the rather unstable Senta all the more understandable. Senta, despite the fact that she is almost immediately shown to be rather odd, represents to him everything that his family is not – she's free spirited, she's creative, and she's quite a carefree girl. He likes this about her and because of this puts up with a little more than some men might so early on in their relationship. He sees he strange behavior as part of a bigger picture, a mating game or sorts, and so he's happy to play along. This sets things up nicely for Chabrol to bring on the twists and turns that his pictures tend to handle so well and if the movie starts off a little slowly, the last half is quite tense indeed (not necessarily 'edge of your seat' tense, but intriguing none the less). We've all done stupid things for love at one time or another, particularly when we were younger, and it's this simple fact that the script plays off of as we wonder how far both Philippe and Senta will go in trying to prove their feelings to one another and more importantly to themselves.
Ultimately, The Bridesmaid is a quirky little movie with some neat ideas and strong performances across the board. It's very well shot and quite an attractive film to look at, and like many of Chabrol's films it has a sort of cold feeling to it that reminds us of his views on the bourgeoisie (though it isn't quite as critical as many of his earlier pictures such as Les Biches which is quite scathing). He digs into Philippe's head a fair bit and this attention to detail and character is the backbone of the picture as we pick up on strange relationship with Senta and with women in general thanks in no small part to his mother and his absent father. The Bridesmaid is not a masterpiece compared to what Chabrol has proven himself to be capable of, but an interesting and well made dramatic thriller that's worth seeking out.
Well, the good news is that The Bridesmaid is presented in an anamorphic 1.66.1 widescreen transfer that preserves the film's original aspect ratio. The bad news is that this transfer isn't very good, in fact, it's very, very murky leaving one to wonder if it's the victim of a bad PAL to NTSC conversion. Blacks show some mild compression artifacts and some motion blurring is evident throughout. It's watchable, thankfully because the image is clean and free of print damage and because the color reproduction isn't half bad, but the movie really should have looked a lot better than it does on this DVD.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo French language track is decent with some nice channel separation in a few scenes and properly balanced levels. The score sounds nice and clear and it's strong enough to enhance the atmosphere without burying the performers underneath. The low end is a little weaker than maybe it should have been but other than that there is nothing to complain about. The burned in English language subtitles are clean, clear and easy to read and free of any typographical errors. The British release of the film came with a French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track but that track has not been carried over for this release unfortunately.
The only substantial extra feature on this release is a documentary entitled Chabrol Directs The Bridesmaid which clocks in at roughly twelve minutes in length. Comprised of some interesting behind the scenes footage and some interview clips with the director himself, it's a nice look into the way that he works as he explains what he does and doesn't like in a script and how he relies as much on little details in the film to tell the story as he does the major plot points. It's presented in French with English subtitles burned into a black bar on the bottom of the screen.
Rounding out the extra features on this release are a text interview with Chabrol, a text biography and filmography for Chabrol, a still gallery or promotional photographs, menus and chapter stops.
The Bridesmaid isn't top tier Chabrol but it's a solid thriller with some nice touches of dark humor and some top notch cinematography. Like many of the director's films, it is at times both cold and slightly pessimistic, but the performances are strong and the script has a few nice twists that end up making this one well worth a look. First Run Features could have put a little more effort into the disc but as it stands the movie looks and sounds alright and the brief documentary is at least of some value for fans. This release comes recommended based on the strength of the film, but be warned that the transfer isn't so hot.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.