Sunday, July 13, 2014

La Ceremonie

(Claude Chabrol, France, 1995)

Two movies in, and it's hard to know what to take away from Chabrol.  People are shit?  He's not entirely that pessimistic, no, but his worldview seems depressingly closed; he delivers his world-weariness with a cold insight that could be mistaken for wisdom, but there's no sense of possibility outside of the frames, and only the slightest hints of mystery.  Chabrol comes off as something of a connoisseur of human duplicity and frailty.  His familiarity with a range of human behavior is striking, but he appears not to know what to do with it.  In this film, there are moments of tenderness that only add to the bitterness of the conclusion - and Chabrol is a filmmaker of strict, even severe conclusions - that amorality walks among us, that fate is utterly indifferent, and that a good life is merely lucky and indulgent.

Being formidably French, he manages almost to convince us that such an outlook, bereft of ideals and utterly insensible to any hint of redemption, might be correct, or at least bearable.  He's a smoothie - he manages to make cynicism go down easy.  But what's beneath all of it?  It seems to me that this begs a serious question of La Politique des Auteurs, of which Chabrol was a lifelong exponent and example.  Does the personality of the author, no matter how limited, so long as it is present, constitute enough to obtain quality?  His formal control is unmistakable, just like his cynicism, however gleeful it occasionally seems.  But why should that be enough?  A doctrinaire reading would have us quiver with exaltation from a mind so powerfully channeled.  But why should we care so much for his company?  His imagination seems fatally limited to wry distillations of bad behavior: the shallowness and self-absorption of his bourgeois victims, and the shame, resentment, and murderous amorality of the perps.  All in all, it's a handsome film that marks the presence of a chilly, stubborn mind.