Title: La Cérémonie
Country: France, Germany
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery
Director: Claude Chabrol
Music: Matthieu Chabrol
Cinematography: Bernard Zitzermann
I have the most polarised feeling towards this Claude Chabrol’s 1995 crime-drama based on Ruth Rendell’s novel A JUDGEMENT IN STONE, it is a sterling slow-burner charting the irreconcilable contradictions between upper class and working class, and climaxes with a real unsettling crime asking for shock value, but one cannot immune to Chabrol’s rather deliberate demonization of proletariat by bluntly depicting those two low-class women, the maid Sophie (Bonnaire) and the postmistress Jeanne (Isabelle), as such nihilistic sociopaths, especially Sophie, who is so preoccupied by the shame that she is illiterate (which seems to be utterly unnecessary for a young girl, it is never too late to learn from the scratch, but no, she doesn’t want to overcome her shortcoming, instead she hides it as if this is the final defence towards the collapse of her entire world) and acts like a complete ingrate, contrasting the benevolent Lelievre family, at least no one can nitpick their behaviours are over the boundary. Even for Jeanne, the rancour between her and Georges Lelievre (Cassel) is mutual, but his wife Catherine (Bisset) doesn’t refuse her ask to a free-ride and his daughter Melinda (Ledoyen) even voluntarily fixes her engine malfunction for god’s sake!
It is enraging to watch a film flagrantly showboat its malign hidden agenda, but on the other hand, I adore the performances, Bonnaire, ever so reservedly emotive in her subdued character, once we are aware she is illiterate, viewers can appreciate more about the accurate nuances she conducts whenever there would a possibility to unveil her clinging secret. And sardonically, the Lelievre family doesn’t care that at all, it never occurs to them illiteracy will be such a deal-breaker in Sophie’s own recognition of self-worth, they only feel sorry for her, which shows Chabrol is relentless to disseminate the irony of these two classes’ poles apart values, but really it is not sensible of him to resort to such a radical method to play up the revenge, it only reflects his narrow jaundice of the chasm between the rich and the poor, with a tacit leaning toward the former. Jeanne is the black sheep in the local community, a bad influence to antagonise Sophie against her employers, but unsubtly, they both have inexplicable accident/murder precedent, Jeanne seems be more like a fuse than an enabler for Sophie’s final outburst, Huppert casts her versatile magnetism at her own sweet will, freewheeling in her loosey-goosey scorn towards the bourgeoise-and-religious sanctimony and naturalistically eloquent in her insinuating and sweet-talking, a proficient scene-stealer
Jean-Pierre Cassel and Jacqueline Bisset both tread a fine line between sympathetic and supercilious as the typical upscale couple, to contrast their ultimate victim identities and illicit compassion, so are Ledoyen and Merlet, who plays Gilles, Catherine’s teenage son, they are no saints but together stand for a perfect family borne out of a second marriage, so Chabrol slyly brews the upshot which they don’t deserve, not afraid to take aback his viewers, but at the end of the day, it is a cheap trick for his own tunnel vision of the class schism, a pessimistic and distorted view of humanity and a fair game doesn’t match the excellency of its cast.