20 Jul 2012

Bel ami Movie review

Guy de Maupassant’s Bel Ami, published in 1885, is the story of Georges Duroy (Robert Pattinson), a hustler who rises to the top of Parisian society by impressing not the most powerful men in that world, but their women. They include Madeleine (Uma Thurman), the wife of the political editor of La Vie Française, who helps Georges secure a journalist job, despite no obvious talent in that direction. A beguiling young widow, Clotilde (Christina Ricci), and the prim and proper Virginie (Kristin Scott Thomas), wife of the paper’s editor, Monsieur Rousset (Colm Meaney), also fall under his spell.

Georges eventually marries Madeleine, but when he discovers that the tycoons he knows have shut him out of a lucrative deal involving the government’s invasion of Morocco, he dumps Virginie and, to her horror, seduces her daughter (Holliday Grainger). Does this cad know no bounds?

In 1947, director/producer Albert Lewin made The Private Affairs of Bel Ami, which, although hardly a great film, is superior in every way to this new version.  George Sanders, was perfectly cast in the title role, and Angela Lansbury showed her considerable prowess as a character actress even at the age of 21, as Clotilde. It was literate and elegant, everything which the 2012 Bel Ami is not, strenuously try as it might to attain those qualities. 

Expensively produced as this is, with sumptuous costumes and settings, it just never comes alive. The chic soirees, drawing-room encounters and Toulouse-Lautrec bar scenes just lie flat there on the screen, populated by a lot of extras in fancy dress who never generate the kind of vivid human buzz apparent in the period work of directors like Visconti or Ophuls. The screenplay is long on verbiage, short on insight. All the vital political talk involving the controversial French involvement in Morocco has no resonance whatsoever, and everything subsides into a didactic dullness. 

Pattinson’s casting was a major misstep. The women in love with him would seem to offer grand histrionic opportunities for the various actresses playing them, but, from Thurman’s commandingly omniscient Madeleine to Ricci’s wronged flower to Scott Thomas’ complete and devastating degradation.

Being a Rob fan, I am saying this that none of the performers manages to make as strong an impression as the busy music score in this wan enterprise. Unfortunately, it’s not a good one.

Movie trailer:

No comments:

Post a Comment