Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Review: Bel Ami

"The most important people in Paris are not the menThe most important people in Paris are their wives."

I remember hearing about this project's inception, and the thing that sparked my interested most certainly went in a different direction then all 6 studios who share credit intended. T'was not Twilight star Pattinson, Robert that had my knees weak. But Uma Thurman, Kristin Scott Thomas and Christina Ricci all inside one film, a period-setting, a French aristocratic love drama. There we go. . .

Accomplishing such a unlikely containment of talent is a feat in itself, the likes of which could only be attained through a box office top-billed star the like of which has the crowd draw of Edward Cullen.The sheer spectacle of those three actresses with long standing ties to film was enough for me to watch the trailer in anticipation for the celluloid and then sit through this.

And as it turns out, my instincts lead me to watching a real gem of a film about three wives in Paris, played with delicious fancy by three skilled performers.

Pattinson stars as George Du Roy, a poor, ex-military from Algeria who now acts as a simple clerk in Paris, he has shabby, but nearly presentable clothes and beats bugs to death in his crumby apartment. One night while grabbing a beer and eye-fucking a whore in a lively joint, he runs into an old military chap that quite literally throws his beer away, buys him champagne, gives him gold coins and tells him to buy evening wear, he's coming over for dinner the next night. He just so happens to be powerful at the newspaper. Enter George's new job.

The following evening, he arrives and meets the three most influential women in Paris, and from then on, he decides, this is the life for him. Thr rungs of his French power ladder are Clotilde (Ricci), Madaliene Forestier (Thurman) and Virginie (Scott-Thomas). Through their legs, comes the spoils. Initially writing articles of his military exploits in the form of diaries with help from Madaliene he eventually makes his ascent into Parisian aristocracy and dabbles in politics through his writing and his company. Along the way, manages to make a few enemies, and think with his lower half quite a bit. But alas, the curse and men, is it not?

I do realize the pedigree of this novel, and it's rich history in the French literary world. But, do I dare say it's a little too convenient that where every George goes, people are trying to help him, almost as if the Parisian universe will take care of him and hold him well? Or, maybe, is it that he is so obviously in need of help? Can we see this on George's face, the earnest desperation coated very well in a friendly soul and (initially) well-to-do nature?
I believe so, and since this is my review, you have to take it or fuck off.

But I'll say that altruism only last him so long before he tastes the simply pleasures of life that were all too recently beyond his grasp, and he finds himself in a slow-boil of addiction to it, jumping from one lily-pad to the next as water rushes wilder and wilder. His short-comings as a writer begins to show and without Madaliene's help, he nearly looses all. But alas, it's back to the face, the charm, and those vampire teeth that shine through his smile. And he's back in the paper as Gossip Columnist. I did begin to wonder if the cosmos would continue to light his path or if the ground really was shrinking beneath his feet.

I can't speak to the novel's attempts at George and making his motivations harder to turn into realities, but this movie certainly makes short work of him having to do much of anything to get what he wants. A movie about a 20-something who bangs down French cougars and makes money? It tries for more though.

There are people who aren't giving Pattinson his due here, and please allow me to argue in his defense, he seems very rightly suited for a hungry aristocratic wanna-be who slithers like an asshole past people's defense, all the while smiling like a shit in the face of his enemies. He sneers, and snickers, and with angry joy conquers his way through the movie. I bought it hook-line-sinker and was filleted while watching this. There is a even a scene in which he goes to visit the dying husband of a socialite, a friend of his. This man rolls, coughs, and the spits up blood onto George's shirt sleeve and as the wife panics he seems offended at the thought of blood on his nice new clothing. Just pause that shot and take a look at that face. Pattinson displays disgust here at whores, men, women and just about anyone who offends his ever-enhancing sensibilities.

It makes it all the sweet when the little shit gets hurt, or, truthfully annoyed. Which then arises a problem. Why are we to watch young George (nicknamed Bel Ami) get upset at the things he does with his, women? It's always very clear he's in love with the idea, and the image it provides, rather than them people themselves. Coming off cruel and at times nearly compassionless instead of the Casanova who always means well. Would this be different if Heath Ledger had done it? I'd like to think so. Maybe he wouldn't have took it so seriously (bad pun intended for the right of my point). But no, I don't think here is character we're supposed to root for, or maybe we are. The end serves the means of his journey, and I'll say I bought it as much.

Maybe it's because she stole my heart in Casper when my mother took me to see it in theaters, seeing her the New England setting making me home sick and the large screen. Or maybe it's because she also has something to offer in the way of playful charm that always seems legitimate, naturally part of her being that really never fails unless her director is a shithead and gets too specific with their desires of her characters. I love watching Ricci do just about anything. Even if it's being Speed Racer's girlfriend or a dirty thing chained up in Samuel L. Jackson's living room. This why I believe I see George truly happy in her company only. Yes, that seems just about right.

Uma Thurman brings a slight sense of Mia Wallace into her powerful and persuasive Parisian wife of Madaliene Forestier. What is is about her that only seems to better her with age, endow her with wisdom? Thurman is a fine wine that we should all taste. Get the crystal please.

Kristin Scott Thomas, who I've seen do many divine things with her excellent handle of the French language is sadly restrained to her English tongue. What is it about the London English accent that calls as a substitute for French, German, Russian? I never buy into it, and thank my lucky stars (I have many, don't you?) that Tarantino had the good sense to use natural languages and the native actors to use them in Inglorious Basterds.

The lovely leading ladies of the movie do what they can with contrived script and they do more for it then it deserves. But then again, that's the excellent by-product of hiring skilled performers who understand the depths and have the gear and airtanks to dive. Too much metaphor?  

I have a feeling that the source material itself had more to offer in the ways of the angry Democratic newspaper and the views of French society raging with the changing of the times. One of many stories written around the era. Such rich history. As if all 6 studios ordered script pages to have spliced bits of France possibly taking Morocco, and how the newspaper does in deed effect officials and their duties, the movie never sells us on it's more political gains, and we don't buy it either, or really don't care. When's the next scene with the vamp kid and his slightly hairy not-as-pale chest?

I say we take George, put him in Forks, Washington and set him loose on the school's eligible women, student body and teachers alike. Now there's a vampire.

Munki out. 

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