Claude Chabrol has been turning out intriguing films almost every year since 1958, many of them thrillers critically described, for lack of a better term, as Hitchcockian. The French filmmaker has his own, rather different approach low-key approach to murder stories. Acknowledging that the human personality is the universal mystery, he invites us to observe the motions of his characters and to and formulate our own ideas about them. If strange things happen, they never seem like gimmicks, and Chabrol refrains from tongue-in-cheek directorial second-guessing. Most of the Chabrol tales I've seen resemble absorbing short stories.
The Bridesmaid could be called a murderous character study, an, "I once met a girl who ..." tale that gets way out of hand. Filmed simply and without cinematic tricks, the show pulls us into its mystery almost immediately.
The Bridesmaid lets us know right from the start that somebody's been killed, giving us a reason to watch the players carefully. We have Philippe, a plumbing contractor's sales rep. His mother Christine (Aurore Clément) is concerned about a new beau, a man who seems a likely marriage prospect but suddenly disappears from her life. Phillipe oldest sister marries a local fireman, and his younger sister sneaks out at night and may be headed for trouble. We don't see any extreme relationship problems in the family.
It's a very modest wedding with only a couple of bridesmaids. Chabrol cuts directly to the bride's abbreviated court, and the bridesmaid on the left gets our attention by not smiling. She instead gazes dully offscreen. It's Stéphanie, nicknamed Senta, and she's just seen Philippe. Philippe needs something out of the ordinary in his life, and Senta is just the ticket. She shows up at his door in her bridesmaid's dress soaked from the rain and aggressively seduces him. Philippe is soon hooked and having difficulty dealing with Senta's tales of travels and hardships as a youngster. She lives in a basement room in a mostly empty house; her stepmother lives a couple of floors up, practicing Flamenco with a younger companion. For a while Philippe suspects that Senta has been telling him lies, and that she may be squatting in the basement room. Senta is controlling and evasive, but most of what she says is confirmed.
Meanwhile, we're still worried about that reported murder. Philippe discovers that his mother's disappearing boyfriend has moved, but not far away. The man claims that he'll call her up, "soon." Philippe's younger sister (Anna Mihalcea) may be involved in drugs or crime, and we worry that she'll perhaps fall victim to whoever killed that first woman. She eventually gets picked up by the police. Then Senta springs a twisted proposition on Philippe. To prove their love, they each must do the following: Plant a tree, write a poem, make love to someone of the same sex, and commit a murder. Deciding rather recklessly that it's an elaborate game -- Senta fudges details in her stories all the time -- Philippe pretends to go along, and even claims to have killed a hobo that's been sleeping on Senta's property (Michael Duchaussoy).
That's of course when things get out of hand, and where The Bridesmaid begins to resemble the 'criss-cross' murder story of Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith. Chabrol's game is to introduce a kind of nagging uneasiness as we wonder when the surprises will come, and how horrible they might be. Senta may be crazy or she may just be emotionally misaligned; there are plenty of other possible murderers. It's an absorbing and different kind of thriller, and less cold than some of Chabrol's stories. We really care about Philippe and don't want him to get tangled up in crime.
Claude Chabrol lets The Bridesmaid play out at a measured pace, being careful to give us plenty of information without arbitrarily introducing clues and red herrings. Philippe hides a sculpture resembling Senta in his closet, making us think that perhaps he is 'hiding something' as well. The rainy and overcast weather makes for dark, rich colors, and I'm informed that Chabrol uses his own subtle pattern of color coding to suggest associations and relationships.
The acting is very natural, with Benoît Magimel and Laura Smet a standout as the lovers. Smet is an unusual actress. In her firs shot she actually looks ugly, until we realize that we've been looking at nothing else in the frame and stop to more carefully read her face. Ms. Smet puts across one of those unreadable personalities that has driven boys and men nuts since time began. She's of the opinion that she's irresistable and she can sell Philippe on that concept with just one look. Only a few steps further, he's ready to leap with her into the unknown.
First Run Features has a great show in its DVD of The Bridesmaid, which has been transferred enhanced and with great care. Colors are excellent and the French dialogue precise. The English subs are removable. For extras, the disc offers a behind-the-scenes docu, a Chabrol interview and still & text galleries.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Bridesmaid rates:
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