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Le Ceremonie is vintage Claude Chabrol and easily one of best films he's made in his six decades of filmmaking.
Based on a Ruth Rendell novel A Judgement in Stone the film - like almost all Chabrol films - is about a bourgeous family and a crime; primarily one that deals with class. In this case a family living out in the countryside hire a maid named Sophie (Sandrine Bonnaire) who is very quiet and mysterious.
The family is a bit condescending toward her without realizing it but everything is fine until Sophie befriends a postal clerk down the street from the house named Jeanne (Isabelle Huppert) who has a hell-raiser quality to her and becomes a really bad influence.
Add to this that Sophie has a secret which she holds pretty close to her. A secret that she's pretty ashamed of to the point that when it is revealed becomes a major liability to the family.
Sandrine Bonnaire gives a really fine performance as the maid. She has a stiff but bouncy walk, a steely gaze and a very determined countenance. Isabelle Huppert is the anarchic spirit of the film who proves to not only be a thorn in the side of the family - who's mail she regularly reads - but is the only friend Sandrine can find.
The directing is seemless and the story glides toward a pretty wild conclusion.
Chabrol has always made films about the bourgeousie but here he concentrates on the struggle between the working class and the rich. Indeed, in an interview extra on the DVD Chabrol says that this film is the last Marxist film. And it's true that the economic position of each person seems to drive their actions and feelings toward one another. Both classes have contempt for each other.
Unlike many Hollywood films La Ceremonie is more interested in character development and less in the actions of the crime. One thing that's notable too is that Chabrol doesn't have a sarcastic eye on the bourgeous family like he often does. Neither is he critical of the two women. He keeps an objective distance without moralizing the actions of anyone. But, for me, what makes the film great is the tension that builds and the true anarchic madness that comes to the surface in the film's final scenes. It's deliciously vicious.
The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and enhanced for 16 x 9 televisions. The print is very clean and sharp although sometimes it seems a bit too bright. The transfer was done by the same people who do Criterion DVDs.
Audio is in Dolby stereo 2.0 but other than the occassional use of classical music the film is all dialogue.
There is a 20 minute Making of documentary with interviews and on the set shots that are all quite captivating and informative. Other than a filmography of Chabrol there is a theatrical trailer and a very good essay by Jonthan Rosenbaum.
La Ceremonie is an excellent film that is part drama, part thriller with fine performances and a good script. The DVD looks very good and has one modest extra.