Friday, March 11, 2011

Le Ceremonie

In Chabrol's Le Ceremonie, class consciousness pervades not only the unconscious but all visible relations. Henceforth, from the first frame, the viewers objectivity is constantly under pressure. Class distinctions pervade and invade us everywhere and possibly everyone is a victim of somebody else. That there is something amiss in all this is not a new wonder. When the domestic servant played by Bonnaire and her mentor played with menace by Huppert engage in a private war against their oppressors, hell will break loose. We must not however be trapped into thinking where our loyalties must lie. Chabrol achieves mastery in depicting the states of people's mind and warped personalities that are distinct from their class sensibilities. It is true that Sophie's employers are complacently smug but it is also true that occasionally they are kind. They are rich is a fact but that they are also alive is another fact; in deciding what is not right or passing judgement, the duo of Sophie and her mentor are acting for themselves, not on behalf of some members of their class.

Chabrol gives us a lot of clues about their flawed and dangerous personalities. In essence, the duo are lonely in their respective ways but their solidarity for each other has pathological consequences. They don't really know each other but assume so, their friendship or bonhomie is born out of darkness and need. This kinship or solidarity runs along class divides but I think, it also cements along a line that brings their fractured pasts together, and allows events to develop. I do not believe that Sophie is pushed towards the Huppert woman, who is already many steps ahead. Sophie has already crossed many frontiers in her mind. The employing rich family remain true to their own sensibilities and taste ; contrast Don Giovanni with rude mannerisms and what they see on their TV. That the ending is sinister and dark is not because there is a class war but because Sophie's person is going towards that denouement anyway.

The cultivation of style is seen by the two women as directly linked to money; whether aesthetic sensibilities are inborn or arise from cultural and educational capital is indeed the most important point here. Sophie's war is born out of a warped understanding of such things. Her vindictive nature sublimates in violence. However, the employing family and their arrogance is a reflection of their "entitlement status", and it exists amongst all classes and those who write poetry or even visit art galleries. However, this entitlement does not predispose or should not allow them to be victims of violence, for this entitlement is all that some people know. Nice clothes, beautiful houses and charming taste is ultimately all part of a social privilege that some have and either inherit or acquire from a background capital.Those who don't have it are not neccessarily those who cannot acquire it.

In Le Ceremonie, the actors playing the rich family are brilliant in their respective ways but Huppert brings malignant menace and considerable nuance to her role. Bonnaire plays the role out of her skin. Her performance is easily the best. This is such a great movie that one viewing alone leads to myriad reflections. And its aesthetic is so chilling and so Chabrolesque that one frame on, and we know mayhem is afoot.


Nathanael Booth said...

Great post. This is a terrifically complex film, and one that I look forward to revisiting in the future.

Kubla Khan said...

This I agree: it is a complex movie and seemingly easy to watch. And yet, a difficult thing about this movie is this inability to actually really pin what Chabrol wants to depict. I recommend Austin's essays on Chabrol. Bonnaire is magnificent, Huppert, one of my favourite actress, brilliant.