Info

Art Opinions

Posts tagged Virginie Ledoyen

““Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.
― Ernst F. Schumacher

If ever a filmmaker has attempted to avoid moving his films in a conventional and contrived manner, it would be Benoît Jacquot. This is a film director who aims for realism without offering much in the area of character motivation or any level of explanation regarding the choices, actions and behavior of the character(s.) This mode of pursuit is not unique, but when it comes to several of Jacquot’s films it is an essential choice. This is a choice that many embrace but often more try to reject. And yet, Jacquot’s often quirkily passionate films have a way of lingering on in our memory. They should not be easily dismissed.

Pas de scandale / Keep It Quiet Benoît Jacquet, 1999

Pas de scandale / Keep It Quiet
Benoît Jacquet, 1999

I had just hit my 30’s when I first volunteered for both The Boston Film Festival and the then fairly newly established Boston French Film Festival. I knew a great deal about movies and was not dazed by the idea of “celebrity.” Not one to be intimidated or one to be intimidating in my communications, over a couple of years I began to be offered more interesting opportunities. Sadly, my professional life prevented me from becoming too involved. Even still these were eye-opening experiences.

Appropriately titled... À ma soeur! Catherine Breillat, 2001

Appropriately titled…
À ma soeur!
Catherine Breillat, 2001

One film that had come to the attention of both festivals was Benoît Jacquot’s Pas de scandal (or No Scandal.) Jacquot was most assuredly established within the world of International Cinema. His 1995 film, A Single Girl, which attempted to adhere to the style set forth by Agnès Varda’s Cléo from 5 to 7, had been embraced. Any discussion of A Single Girl without reference to the La Nouvelle Vague would be a crucial mistake. Another crucial aspect of Jacquot’s A Single Girl that must be mentioned is it’s complex simplicity. Virginie Ledoyen’s “Valerie” is not dealing with her immortality as Varda’s “Cleo.”

This is not to say that Valerie doesn’t have a great deal on her mind. Just starting a new and often humiliating job at a swank hotel, she is pregnant and increasingly stubborn in not wanting marriage or support from the child’s father. This independent choice is not so much a statement of Valerie’s individuality as much as it is tied to a young woman’s often irrational and immature reaction(s) to the situations into which she finds herself. She is rebellious. She is determined. She is manipulative. She can be cruel. She can be kind. She is intelligent. Most of all, she is unpredictable.

La fille seule / A Single Girl Benoît Jacquot, 1995

La fille seule / A Single Girl
Benoît Jacquot, 1995

As Jacquot follows Valerie throughout her first day of new employment, it is filmed in “real” time. Whatever we learn about his central character is largely limited to the way she pursues her day. And the way she pursues it does not always make logical sense. But how many of our own actions are consistently logical? This film arrived at just the right time to catch audiences attentions. The film was highly valued despite a number of production goofs. One of the main issues with A Single Girl is the low-budget style of filming on the busy streets of Paris. In more than a few scenes we see Parisians and tourists staring at the camera and small film crew. It didn’t matter, the lead actor’s presence, beauty and skill merged with Benoit Jacquot’s story and camera were a perfect match. And it wasn’t the bearing of mortality that made the film interesting. It was the often mundane interactions which Valerie often imposes an odd will and assertion that made the awkward all the more strange.

La fille seule was correctly translated to A Single Girl. It was quickly learned that the title for this film’s North American release was to be retitled Keep It Quiet. Yet another odd choice within the realm of foreign film translation to English title choices. My votes for the two most achingly bad translation titles remains Chabrol’s brilliant Merci pour le chocolat which became Night Cap and Breillat’s À ma soeur! which was changed to Fat Girl.

An inappropriate title for North American distribution... Fat Girl Catherine Breillat, 2001

An inappropriate title for North American distribution…
Fat Girl
Catherine Breillat, 2001

A problematic choice to say the least, To My Sister! would have been a far more appropriate title. At the time, it almost felt like the North American distributors seemed to think that Breillat’s disturbing film was not provocative enough!?! The American title leaves an unintended extra sour taste in the mouth. Yet nothing could eclipse the brilliance of this angry and potent 2001 film. À ma soeur! or Fat Girl, an essential chapter in The New French Extreme shocks with a purpose. No title can change that. Sadly, the North American title of Night Cap assigned to Chabrol’s profoundly Hitchcockian bit of dark humor and suspense did confuse many a potential ticket buyer back in the day of its initial release. Merci pour le chocolat appeared to be a quiet and intellectual drama. It was a very poor marketing choice for one of the cinematic master’s finest later works.

However, Keep it Quiet was a surprisingly solid title translation choice for Jacquot’s strange little film. If ever a film appears to excude French culture, it is 1999’s Pas de scandal. The film is simple, yet deeply complex. It concerns a family of wealth. There is a bold honesty constantly at play, but continually muted. The characters carry intellectual, mildly quirky and stylistic personas thanks to their physicality, actions and nuanced glances. Keep It Quiet has an interesting air of sophistication, elegance, intelligence and emotional distance.

Please, whatever you do, do not cause a scene in public. Isabelle Huppert and Fabrice Luchini do not need much in the way of dialogue to express the complex and illogical of their choices and actions. Keep It Quiet Benoît Jacquot, 1999 Cinematography | Romain Winding

Please, whatever you do, do not cause a scene in public.
Isabelle Huppert and Fabrice Luchini do not need much in the way of dialogue to express the complex and illogical of their choices and actions.
Keep It Quiet
Benoît Jacquot, 1999
Cinematography | Romain Winding

What makes Keep It Quiet unique is that while it is all of these things, it is not verbally articulate. One of the film’s core concepts is that none of the three main characters seem to know how to communicate or even remotely articulate their respective feelings and thoughts. The result is a surprisingly charming and sad family study in which the characters act like human bumper-cars. The characters are constantly bumping into each other, but are careful to never crash. No car is completely thrown off the road. However, it is plain to see that all of them would most likely prefer that to staying the course that their respective personal choices, compulsions and obsessions have sent them speeding down an uncertain road.

Released in France and Europe as Pas de scandale (obvious meaning being No Scandal) the film fared well commercially and even better from a film criticism standpoint. But even though the film is blessed with the appearance of rightfully respected International Film Star, Isabelle Huppert, it was barely released in North America. A quick debut at The Toronto Film Festival and a very limited screening in a few major American cities, the film went unnoticed. Part of the challenge faced with marketing this highly innovative film was the fact that it avoided exploration of the transgressive. There is no real violence to speak of, a very brief scene of nudity and sexuality and none of the extremities that French Film was becoming known for a the time. And while the American title makes sense, it is hardly an attention grab.

Fabrice Luchini Keep It Quiet Benoît Jacquot, 1999 Cinematography | Romain Winding

Fabrice Luchini
Keep It Quiet
Benoît Jacquot, 1999
Cinematography | Romain Winding

Fabrice Luchini plays one of two brothers from a French family of considerable wealth and power. The eldest and more business savvy of the two, he has taken over the family business. He has been responsible in building the business into what appears to be an International Empire. Interestingly, we never learn much about the family business beyond it is powerful and creates a great deal of money. While the business has flourished under the elder brother’s leadership, he made some morally and illegal decisions that have caused him to be convicted and serve a time in prison. It is never actually stated what criminal action Gregoire Jeancourt has committed, we determine it was significant enough to cause an national scandal. One could even argue that it is unclear if Luchini’s character actually committed the crime or simply took the fall for the family.

The film begins with his first day freed from prison. Fabric Luchini sits passively with a cup of tea in a cafe. His face has a child-like level of curiosity with hints of sadness. When Isabelle Huppert enters the cafe, we see Luchini’s face light up with hope. Huppert is clearly moved, but it is unclear as to which emotional direction she is moving. Both are uncomfortable. Huppert’s Agnes presents a pleasant but fully removed presence. Yet when she starts to speak Agnes reveals there is a great deal just beneath her distant surface. It is only through an awkward bit of conversing that we realize this is Gregoire’s wife. This is the first time they have seen each other since his imprisonment and declaration of corporate guilt. Agnes’ attitude toward her husband quickly becomes a basic assumption projected onto Gregoire: he seems disoriented, confused and perhaps even a bit insane.

Sighing and lost between the struts and flirts.. Vincent Lindon Keep It Quiet Benoît Jacquot, 1999 Cinematography | Romain Winding

Sighing and lost between the struts and flirts..
Vincent Lindon
Keep It Quiet
Benoît Jacquot, 1999
Cinematography | Romain Winding

The younger brother is played by Vincent Lindon who for a never explained reason(s) was pushed out of the family business altogether excepting a share of the profits. In the meantime, Louis Jeancourt has firmly established himself as nationally admired TV Chat Show host which aims to be intellectually challenging vs. the normal exploitive aim of most popular chat shows. He has lived his live as a playboy. Ever flirting and seemingly ever uncomfortable with any level of romantic commitment. Even more odd than his sister-in-law, he appears to be more than a little uncomfortable with his elder sibling’s release from prison. Less concerned with “seeing” his brother or offering a greeting, Louis is only concerned with how the public will perceive Gregoire and their family name. Like almost every character in Gregoire’s pre-prison life, his brother thinks that there is something emotionally disturbed about his older brother.

Gregoire’s beautiful wife treats him with an icy demeanor and is more concerned with getting to her beauty salon than catching up with her husband. She is even more clear that she holds no sexual interest, when she surrenders to his sexual needs she seems shocked that his focus is more on giving pleasure than taking. No words of this brief, intimate but non-explicit scene are offered, but it seems clear that Agnes is more shocked than aroused by the experience. The husband and wife seem to constantly be in situations in which each wants to state something of emotional importance. Neither are able to do this. Never clearly stated, it would seem that Agnes remains out of duty but her husband yearns to express his love and need for her. In one of the film’s more oddly powerful moments, he tries to make his wife listen to his planned comments for an upcoming national interview. Agnes puts out that she is far too busy to sit and listen to his speech. But when it emerges that the real reason he is wants her attention is not to actually review planned statements but to offer her his personal declaration of love.  When we see a bit of his interview he sits in awkward but oddly comfortable silence. Immune to the questions regarding his guilt and corporate gaul, he simply looks out as if focused on something off in the distance.

The wife and the would-be-mistress remain kind and gentle, but an undercurrent of resentment is just hanging like a vague threat above both of them. Isabelle Huppert and Vahina Giocante Keep It Quiet Benoît Jacquot, 1999 Cinematography | Romain Winding

The wife and the would-be-mistress remain kind and gentle, but an undercurrent of resentment is just hanging like a vague threat above both of them.
Isabelle Huppert and Vahina Giocante
Keep It Quiet
Benoît Jacquot, 1999
Cinematography | Romain Winding

Benoit Jacquot fully employs the use of Olivier Lebé’s lush musical score. The film’s score if of import because during the first half of the film is seems in opposition to the images warmly captured by Romain Winding’s cinematography. Most of all the ambitious and gushing score seems far too musically emotive for the film’s characters and story. As the film develops toward it’s ending point this mismatched music begins to not only work, but has a schism-like impact that fits in nicely with what becomes both a passionate and cleverly intellectual film.

Gregoire may very well be having a sort of emotional break, but it is more likely that time away from his life has given him pause to reappraise his priorities. As he attempts to find a way to fit back into his life, he once again must reappraise his connections to family and his firm. There is nothing at all simple about this movie. Vincent Lindon’s Louis is deeply wounded, limited and afraid of life. He seems to hide behind his public persona to shield himself from having to significantly connect to anyone. Agnes is not the icy and distant woman she seems trying to be. Instead we begin to see that she is a loving and caring mother. We also see that while her love for her husband may be forever tarnished, there is love there. As we see she and her younger brother-in-law interact there is an increasingly uneasy feeling that their relationship has at some point taken a turn for the inappropriate. None of this is ever clearly discussed or validated, but there is a sense that Agnes’ concern for Louis goes far deeper than that of a sister-in-law. In another of the film’s most powerful moments, she and Louis meet for a cup of coffee. As Louis works up the courage to reveal a surprising truth, her intellectual reaction is both filled with humor and logic. Her physical reaction and his to her reveals something far deeper. Is her brother-in-law the actual father of one of she and Gregoires’ children? Or, is there some deeply real romantic desire between them that must remain unexplored?

Is there more here than meets the eyes? Isabelle Huppert and Vincent Lindon Keep It Quiet Benoît Jacquot, 1999 Cinematography | Romain Winding

Is there more here than meets the eyes?
Isabelle Huppert and Vincent Lindon
Keep It Quiet
Benoît Jacquot, 1999
Cinematography | Romain Winding

And as Gregoire’s patience with his family’s dismissal of him as disoriented or a bit insane wears thin, we see him reach out to a young woman who seems less interested than intrigued by his advances. At an uncomfortable and awkward family dinner we realize that Gregoire is far more aware of himself than others are giving him credit. He seems to prefer the company of strangers because he might find more honesty and less animosity. Jacquot’s film takes an unexpected final act twist when the wife finally steps forward with a single sentence that propels the audience to a new understanding of not only the family and the scandal: it provides us with a satisfying conclusion that explains more than it attempts to answer our questions. These actors have not just been playing characters in a story — they have slipped into the personas of the human condition. Suddenly the idea of a plot seems less important than the idea of having watched intelligent and well-intended people wandering confused through a challenging situation. Keep It Quiet is a bluntly realistic film that often pushes against ideas of logic and story-telling. Sometimes the human condition makes little sense from outside perception or even personal introspection. Nothing here is black or white. Nothing is simple, but all the complexities are presented with simple precision. Every shot of this film seems carefully planned. Benoit Jacquot has simply presented the complex.

"Go after him." Vincent Lindon and Isabelle Huppert Keep It Quiet Benoît Jacquot, 1999 Cinematography | Romain Winding

“Go after him.”
Vincent Lindon and Isabelle Huppert
Keep It Quiet
Benoît Jacquot, 1999
Cinematography | Romain Winding

Jacquot seems to be studying the unstated and the unseen. The film is at once limited within it’s own odd universe, yet is a constant reminder that these characters are not as odd as they appear. Does a spouse who has faced public ridicule and inspection due to the other spouse’s criminal activity automatically rush forward to embrace said life partner as soon as he is released from jail? Or does the experiences of dealing with a public scandal fill her with a sort of dread and discomfort at welcoming her husband home? Does the newly freed husband become angry or does this reaction cause further escalation of disorientation? Does his celebrity chat host little brother rush with open arms to his older brother who has just served a year in prison? Or like his sister-in-law, is he apprehensive and perhaps even angry for PR nightmares that the brother’s actions have caused?

Taking Existentialism to a whole other kind of level... Fabrice Luchini Keep It Quiet Benoît Jacquot, 1999 Cinematography | Romain Winding

Taking Existentialism to a whole other kind of level…
Fabrice Luchini
Keep It Quiet
Benoît Jacquot, 1999
Cinematography | Romain Winding

More to the point: Are all three people suddenly dropped into a disturbing situation with which none of them know how to deal?  For a film with very little dialogue that deals directly with the core concerns of it’s characters, Keep It Quiet is startling revealing and confoundingly curious. And in a rare moment of clarity, the North American title translation is actually better than the French film’s original title. This is not a film about scandal or the need to hide or defend it. This is a film about human beings who are unable to open up to each other. And in some cases, even unable to open up to themselves.

After making Keep It Quiet, Benoit Jacquot seemed to turn his attention to costume or period pieces. Most notably the exquisite 2012’s Farewell My Queen, which focused on the final days prior to the French Revolution through the eyes and experiences of one of Marie Antoinette assigned court readers. This film was extremely well-crafted and garnished a great deal of praise. But in 2009, he had returned to the complicated waters of human identity with his adaptation of Pascal Quignard’s novel, Villa Amalia. A fascinating and often stunning film, this movie was primarily focused on capturing another carefully textured performance from Isabelle Huppert. Despite the costumes, eras or the cinematic intentions, all of Jacquot’s films are closely tied to the unpredictability of human nature and the often absence of logic. In September of 2014, his 3 Hearts premiered in North America at the Toronto Film Festival.

3 Hearts Benoît Jacquot, 2014

3 Hearts
Benoît Jacquot, 2014

In the past decade universally-shared languages has evolved to the point where foreign distribution to North America no longer seems to require odd “translations” for titles and improved subtitles. So much so that it made me chuckle when US distributors felt it necessary to release Jacquot’s 3 coeurs to 3 Hearts, but the title translation failed to aid the film in securing a decent US release. Despite screenings at one other US film festival, this film was largely limited to only a few larger US cities.

It is not surprising that this strange little film received mixed reviews and reactions. Despite the fact that there is a most certain connection to Leo McCarey’s 1950’s classic, An Affair to Remember, it seems many were unable to accept the idea of bizarre coincidences or odd logic to a romantic story. However, my initial response to a screening of this film last year left me somewhat conflicted. So confused was my response to 3 Hearts that it has taken me this long to comment on the strange film. It took another four viewings before I was able to clearly sort through my own issues with the film. One thing remained solidly in my mind from the first screening, this is a Benoit Jacquot movie. In fact, this might be Jacquot at his most unfettered. One should expect cinematic aspects that are both deeply complex and opposingly simple. The filmmaker is creating more than just a love story, he is playing with cinematic sensibilities without turning away from the illogic of the human condition.

A family of beautiful but strikingly different women lay at the center of this tightly-structured universe... Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve and Charlotte Gainsbourg 3 Hearts Benoît Jacquot, 2014 Cinematography | Julien Hirsch

A family of beautiful but strikingly different women lay at the center of this tightly-structured universe…
Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve and Charlotte Gainsbourg
3 Hearts
Benoît Jacquot, 2014
Cinematography | Julien Hirsch

“3 Hearts” is an overtly romantic tale lensed as if it were aiming to be a psychological thriller. Bruno Coulais’ ominous musical score is an over-powering ode to Hans Zimmer’s effective score for “Inception.” Coulais’ musical score acts as a prominent character in this film. As the various production companies logos take form on the screen and the credits begin on black title cards, the almost apocalyptic warning of music starts to churn. The viewers are immediately placed off-balance with what is shown through Julien Hirsch’s cinematography.

The plot is challenging when compared to the mundane realities of life. Or is it? Many critics have complained that the “set-up” is unbelievable from the two beautiful female characters being almost obsessive in their shared love of one rather plain looking middle-aged man. This man works as a  Tax Accountant played by Benoit Poelvoorde. Poelvoorde is best known to US audiences for his unforgettable turn as Ben in the low-budget Cult Film, Man Bites Dog. Certainly far from conventionally handsome, Poelvoorde has never been a gym-perfected, surgically enhanced leading man. He looks his age. Carries a bit of paunch yet manages to retain a bit of his gangley-charm. In 3 Hearts, he moves about in an almost constant state of worry.  Perpetually stressed, Poelvoorde’s Marc is a bit of sweaty mess. Yet even as he fights through his panic attacks or possibly more serious heart condition, he puts forth a considerable amount of masculine charm.

Two incredibly close-knit sisters find their relationship unravel... Charlotte Gainsbourg and Chiara Mastroianni 3 Hearts Benoît Jacquot, 2014 Cinematography | Julien Hirsch

Two incredibly close-knit sisters find their relationship unravel…
Charlotte Gainsbourg and Chiara Mastroianni
3 Hearts
Benoît Jacquot, 2014
Cinematography | Julien Hirsch

Several highly respected critics questioned why characters played by the likes of Charlotte Gainsbourg or Chiara Mastroianni would fall so hard for Poelvoorde’s nervous, goofy face and often comical physicality. This criticism in of itself is problematic. First and foremost, Charlotte Gainsbourg’s sexual allure and beauty are already on the wilder side of populist ideas regarding female beauty. Without question she is someone the camera loves, it is impossible to not note that she carries a good deal of androgyny. She is closer to a middle-aged Patti Smith than normal notions of cinematic beauty. This is not a bad thing. Actually, it has assisted Ms. Gainsbourg ascend to a level of cinematic success that many would have thought impossible. Typically drawn to transgressive characters, Gainsbourg has never been shy about playing out the darker corners of sexual or erotic psychology. In addition to being a highly skilled actor, she has no fear when it comes to what and how she plays a role. But like Benoit Poelvoorde, she barely fits into the idea of conventional beauty. More “hot” and “erotically-charged” than beautiful, Gainsbourg has a strong level of power on screen tinged with a little girl’s voice.

Is anyone in there? Charlotte Gainsbourg 3 Hearts Benoît Jacquot, 2014 Cinematography | Julien Hirsch

Is anyone in there?
Charlotte Gainsbourg
3 Hearts
Benoît Jacquot, 2014
Cinematography | Julien Hirsch

Chiara Mastroianni may be the real-life daughter of Catherine Deneuve and the late Marcello Mastroianni, but she has actually inherited very little of the angelic beauty of her mother or the carnal eroticism of her father. That being stated, anyone can see she is their daughter. Unlike her parents, Chiara Mastroianni has never give the impression that she was too worried about “beauty.” This is a serious actor who is not only highly skilled at what she does, she is intelligent in the way she approaches her roles. Like Gainsbourg, she is clearly comfortable with nudity and sexuality. However, I’ve never seen Ms. Mastroianni aim for provocation or even eroticism. This is an actress who plays it legit. Like her parents, she is blessed with a great deal of on-screen presence. As she has moved into her early 40’s, she brings forth a confidence that fully embraces her facial lines and moles. Certainly a beauty, she does not fit easily into the current mode of cinematic conventional beauty.

Realistic Cinematic Beauty  Charlotte Gainsbourg and Chiara Mastroianni 3 Hearts Benoît Jacquot, 2014 Cinematography | Julien Hirsch

Realistic Cinematic Beauty
Charlotte Gainsbourg and Chiara Mastroianni
3 Hearts
Benoît Jacquot, 2014
Cinematography | Julien Hirsch

This of course if also why these two women stand out in the world of International Film: They do not conform to the hopelessly pathetic ideas of populist beauty. By refusing to even attempt to conform,  they define the rules of their careers. Their beauty is of more natural origin, but both bring an oddly grounded level of attractiveness to the table. From this perspective, it is reasonable to state that all 3 characters (our 3 Hearts) are a cinematic idea of normal/real looking actors. Even if we should accept the assertion that these two women would never turn their head in Benoit Poelvoorde, there is something important to note:

We human beings are a complicated bunch. We make illogical choices all of the time.

Benoit Poelvoorde  3 Hearts Benoît Jacquot, 2014 Cinematography | Julien Hirsch

Benoit Poelvoorde
3 Hearts
Benoît Jacquot, 2014
Cinematography | Julien Hirsch

And we often fall for people that may not be the “obvious” choice. In reality, we are drawn to love by far more than just looks. Peolvoorde’s “Marc” is likable, charming as well as being more than a little lost and complicated. These characteristics are pure cat-nip coming from any sex that can often become an object of desire or obsession to another.

The story is of an unhealthy man who is either dealing with heart problems or severe anxiety. He misses his train back to Paris and accidentally meets Gainsbourg’s  “Sylvie” with whom he shares an almost instant attraction. Played with her typical grace and androgynously erotic charisma, the two spend the entire night talking. Somehow they fail to exchange the basic information of names, phone number and other essentials. But they make a date for later in the week. As they have no info about each other, circumstances prevent the date from being kept. Sylvie assumes she has been stood up and follows her life-partner for whom she seems to have little to no real love to live in the US.

Charlotte Gainsbourg and  Benoît Poelvoorde 3 Hearts Benoît Jacquot, 2014 Cinematography | Julien Hirsch

Charlotte Gainsbourg and Benoît Poelvoorde
3 Hearts
Benoît Jacquot, 2014
Cinematography | Julien Hirsch

Soon Marc crosses paths with the plainer but more grounded, Mastroianni’s “Sophie.” This is a softer and more needy woman. Marc falls for her immediately and she quickly returns the attraction. Marc’s heart issues and panic attacks subside. It is only as they near their wedding date that Marc realizes that Sophie is Sylvie’s sister. Another plot point that seems to defy logic. There is some merit to this claim, but as the film reaches its conclusion — this plot device actually makes sense. Jacquot has stated that he employs a cinematic idea first outlined by Alfred Hitchcock in which love and scenes of love are filmed and approached like scenes of suspense. Enter the use of Bruno Coulais’ intense musical score. The film is exceptionally paced. As the romance, sexual obsessions and desperate heart-aches churn, the film’s music never lets up. A constant gush of swelling worry indicating that serious danger looms over all three characters.

Catherine Deneuve plays the sisters’ mother. She is not given much to do, but what she is given she does brilliantly. Deneuve, much like Isabelle Huppert, can say more with a glance than most actors can do with an entire page of dialogue. This is a skilled gift Deneuve has gained over almost five decades in front of the camera. Always blessed with movie star charisma and presence, over the last three decades she has become one of the most respected film actors in history. In 3 Hearts, the character of the mother serves as a sort of calming logic as well as the sole character who seems to gain insight into the dangers as they begin to unfold and upend her daughters’ happiness. When the ramifications of these dangers are revealed, it is at once dire and expected.

Is domestic bliss enough? Benoît Poelvoorde and  Chiara Mastroianni 3 Hearts Benoît Jacquot, 2014 Cinematography | Julien Hirsch

Is domestic bliss enough?
Benoît Poelvoorde and Chiara Mastroianni
3 Hearts
Benoît Jacquot, 2014
Cinematography | Julien Hirsch

I’ve spent some time with this film because I have felt torn regarding my opinion. I’ve reached the conclusion that my “need” to watch it more than a couple of times indicates that something within the film’s universe fascinates me. And while there is a great deal of reality at play, this film creates a very tightly constructed universe unique to itself. As both Sylvie and Sophie offer to their Marc, they are living in small country France. These comments seem to carry more meaning than simply the provincial. This is a different sort of world within which these owners of three hearts are operating. As Marc slips in his chair and his head drops in a mix of despair and pain, the musical thunder delivers us to a perplexing and somewhat confusing scene. A scene that calls the cinematic perspective into question. Like the three characters, we are left disoriented and oddly enchanted.

3 Hearts and Keep It Quiet may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Like all of this director’s films, these two fall into many of the almost hopelessly stereotypical French Cinematic Style. But I do find it difficult to believe that an Art House Film Lover will find it easy to fully dismiss or forget either of these films. There is something to be said about Benoit Jacquot’s presentation of simple choices, illogic and accidents propelling characters into a dire fates that packs more than a few punches.

Even a historical fictionalization costume dram offers a realistic depiction of humanity... Diane Kruger as a real and very complicated Marie Antoinette Farewell, My Queen Benoît Jacquot, 2012 Cinematography | Romain Winding

Even a historical fictionalization costume dram offers a realistic depiction of humanity…
Diane Kruger as a real and very complicated Marie Antoinette
Farewell, My Queen
Benoît Jacquot, 2012
Cinematography | Romain Winding

Cinematic and odd. And ultimately Jacquot gives us an ambiguous twists. Is true happiness only a thing of dreams, chance or fate? Benoit Jacquot never fails to offer amazing insights and surprisingly strong performances.

Cinematic Motivation is never more clear than when a film artist decides to create a personal adaptation of another’s work. Often the source material serves as a clearly stated guidebook for the film it inspires.

"Come on! Let's go." Isabelle Huppert / Sandrine Bonnaire La Ceremonie Claude Chabrol, 1996 Cinematography | Bernard Zitzermann

“Come on! Let’s go.”
Isabelle Huppert / Sandrine Bonnaire
La Ceremonie
Claude Chabrol, 1996
Cinematography |
Bernard Zitzermann

However, when one is dealing with an articulate and strong-willed film artist, an adaptation will serve as a point from which the filmmaker can jump into aspects of the source that is either hidden with the corners of plot or that is sometimes simply not there. This is most definitely true of two films based on well-established and respected source materials.

In 1996, Claude Chabrol opted to translate a highly respected crime novel for the Big Screen. Fourteen years later a younger South Korean filmmaker, Sang-soo Im, who had studied to become a Sociologist, would decide to “remake” a classic 1960 Korean horror film.

Domestic Horror Taken to a Whole New Level. This is a key classic Korean film. A warped horror film that remains shocking 55 years later. Kim Jin-kyu / Lee Eun-shim The Housemaid / Hanyeo Kim Ki-young, 1960 Cinematography | Kim Deok-jin

Domestic Horror Taken to a Whole New Level. This is a key classic Korean film. A warped horror film that remains shocking 55 years later.
Kim Jin-kyu / Lee Eun-shim
The Housemaid / Hanyeo
Kim Ki-young, 1960
Cinematography | Kim Deok-jin

Both of these filmmakers chose particularly well-known works. While it is clear that they both respected the works from which they would create two important modern films — neither had a problem with subverting core ideas to their respective cinematic intentions.

The Iconic co-founder of La Nouvelle Vague, Chabrol was not a sociologist but he was an astutely politically aware artist. Chabrol refused to label his work as “political” but it was. A self-proclaimed Communist, he did not live the life of a Communist, but he was often concerned with the plight of the struggling classes within French society. As the economic gap between the wealthy and the impoverished, one can see his societal frustration emerge in most of his films.

Friends or Conspirators? Sandrine Bonnaire / Isabelle Huppert La Ceremonie Claude Chabrol, 1996 Cinematography | Bernard Zitzermann

Friends or Conspirators?
Sandrine Bonnaire / Isabelle Huppert
La Ceremonie
Claude Chabrol, 1996
Cinematography | Bernard Zitzermann

Chabrol was far less interested in plot as he was in the characters and their often odd choices and actions within the plot. This is not to say that plot was not important to Claude Chabrol. It was. But his plots are often pushed to the side of the screen so that the audience focuses on the ideas and the actions of the characters. Chabrol seemed to see very little use in explaining the nature of humanity. The actions and choices of his characters carry consequences and often push or pull the plots in various directions and shapes.

Sang-soo Im didn’t not pursue a life as a Sociologist, but he fully understands sociology and the rigid restrictions that exist between and among the ever-mounting class struggle of South Korea. Like Chabrol, he is normally focused on the way elitist concerns are forcing the working classes and impoverished further down the Korean societal ladder.

A the South Korean Economic Gap Between Wealth and Poverty Grows, a woman plunges to her death. The opening sequence of The Housemaid / Hanyeo Sang-soo Im, 2010 Cinematography | Lee Hyung-deok

A the South Korean Economic Gap Between Wealth and Poverty Grows, a woman plunges to her death. The opening sequence of
The Housemaid / Hanyeo
Sang-soo Im, 2010
Cinematography | Lee Hyung-deok

His films serve as often controversial commentary regarding his country’s leadership and the power that money play out in removing access to control personal choices and opportunities. Plot is more important to Im, but his characters’ motivations are often more required than chosen. For many of Sang-soo Im’s characters, there are no choices — only actions.

Ruth Rendell’s British crime novel, A Judgement in Stone, was published to great acclaim and success in 1977. This novel is best known for delivering the following blunt statement as it’s first sentence:

Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write.

Wham! And Rendell’s novel begins. Chabrol loved the novel, but he was not willing to limit the main character’s motivation strictly to illiteracy. It most certainly seems to factor into her choice, but it never feels like the chief motivation. This should not surprise anyone familiar with Chabrol. Chabrol has never been interested in motivation of his characters. They are human. When it comes down to it, can we really ever fully understand why someone does something?

Pushed down by their class or pulled down by personal struggles that have been ignored? La Ceremonie Sandrine Bonnaire / Isabelle Huppert Claude Chabrol, 1996 Cinematography | Bernard Zitzermann

Pushed down by their class or pulled down by personal struggles that have been ignored?
La Ceremonie
Sandrine Bonnaire / Isabelle Huppert
Claude Chabrol, 1996
Cinematography | Bernard Zitzermann

A character he renamed, “Sophie Bonhomme” is played expertly by Sandrine Bonnaire. Unlike Rendell’s classic novel, we do not know that Sophie is illiterate immediately. We are also not ever completely sure why she is unable to read or write. We do pick up that she comes from a lower class background and that she spent a good deal of her young life caring for her ailing father. Perhaps education was not an option. Or, maybe, Sophie simply has learning limitations with which assistance was not available. Not being able to read or write is clearly a source of great anxiety and frustration, it never feels as if it is the most challenging aspect of her situation. There seems to be something far more worrying at Sophie’s core

Reflection of doubt, self-loathing, frustration or a sociopathic rage? Sandrine Bonnaire La Ceremonie Claude Chabrol, 1996 Cinematography | Bernard Zitzermann

Reflection of doubt, self-loathing, frustration or a sociopathic rage?
Sandrine Bonnaire
La Ceremonie
Claude Chabrol, 1996
Cinematography | Bernard Zitzermann

In Kim Ki-young 1960’s The Housemaid, we follow the story of a composer and his pregnant wife who decide that they need to hire a maid to assist with the running of the household. What makes this old film so potent is it’s unhinged approach to horror. The newly hired housemaid is trouble. The film is surprisingly graphic and strange for it’s era. The Housemaid systematically engulfs the entire family into a state of domestic horror. Clearly insane, this maid spys, enjoys subversive behavior and prefers to catch/kill rodents with her own hands rather than rely on poison or traps. She thinks nothing of seducing the husband. But when she becomes pregnant she panics. The composer’s wife begs her to abort the baby by self-harm. She does, but then the crazy-bat-shit really hits the fan. The housemaid becomes a full blown menace who has no problem with evil tricks, torture and murder. Even children are not spared her cruelty.

Sang-soo Im basically throws this entire plot out of the window. His 2010’s The Housemaid is not a horror film as much as it is an erotic thriller. However, “thriller” is not an altogether correct label for this “remake.” Sang-soo Im has created an entirely different film. Essentially, it only shares the same title.

Caring for their little girl and cleaning house are not the only "chores" which quickly become more and more degrading... Welcome to Sang-soo Im's "Erotic Thriller" The Housemaid / Hanyeo Jeon Do-yeon / Lee Jung-jae Sang-soo Im, 2010 Cinematography | Lee Hyung-deok

Caring for their little girl and cleaning house are not the only “chores” which quickly become more and more degrading… Welcome to Sang-soo Im’s “Erotic Thriller”
The Housemaid / Hanyeo
Jeon Do-yeon / Lee Jung-jae
Sang-soo Im, 2010
Cinematography | Lee Hyung-deok

This is the story of the poor soul hired by a cruel wealthy family. This family uses “politeness” with their servants as a device rather than a courtesy and any level of respect is nonexistant. The hired help are far below them. They exist only to serve and have little to no human value. And, in Im’s film the housemaid, Eun-yi, is not alone. She has an additional key duty and boss. She has been hired as both an Au Pair to the young couple’s daughter and as an assistant maid. Besides the husband and pregnant wife, she also reports to Miss Cho. Do-yeon Jeon plays Eun-yi and the great Yuh-jung Youn plays Miss Cho. Both performances are effortlessly realistic. When these two women are on the screen you almost forget you’re watching a movie.

The Head Maid understands that to survive in the world of servant to a wealthy family one has to transform into a cold stone or face whatever added humiliation their masters plan to deliver. Youn Yuh-jung The Housemaid / Hanyeo Sang-soo Im, 2010 Cinematography | Lee Hyung-deok

The Head Maid understands that to survive in the world of servant to a wealthy family one has to transform into a cold stone or face whatever added humiliation their masters plan to deliver.
Youn Yuh-jung
The Housemaid / Hanyeo
Sang-soo Im, 2010
Cinematography | Lee Hyung-deok

Miss Cho knows the score, but is a strict boss. Nothing happens in this sleek minimalist home without her knowing. Constantly poking the newly hired Housemaid / Au Pair to do everything with perfection, it is hard for the audience to know if Miss Cho is friend or foe. It is not until the mid-point of the film, while she is attempting to relax in the servant’s bathtub she explains to Eun-yi why she is so hard on her:

You get up in the morning and think of what you have to endure. And, damn. It makes your gut hurt. But what can you do? Just breathe in deep and transform into a cold stone.

Daughter and Mother or Conspirators? The Mistresses of the house know no limit to their cruelty. Seo Woo / Park Ji-Young The Housemaid / Hanyeo Sang-soo Im, 2010 Cinematography | Lee Hyung-deok

Daughter and Mother or Conspirators? The Mistresses of the house know no limit to their cruelty.
Seo Woo / Park Ji-Young
The Housemaid / Hanyeo
Sang-soo Im, 2010
Cinematography | Lee Hyung-deok

At this point we realize that Miss Cho has been trying to teach Eun-yi to be precise and hard so as not to become any more a victim of this family than she already has to be.

We already know what Sang-soo Im has in mind. He begins the film in the tourist area of Seoul where the lower classes sweat and struggle to serve and clean-up after the tourists and middle class Korean party animals. Eun-yi is one of the working slaves. She sees a young women recently tied to scandal and ruin toss herself from a building. The tourists are shocked, but this serves as more of a curiosity and nuisance to the workers. Eun-yi, however, is shaken to the core.

Cleaning to please and entice... Jeon Do-yeon The Housemaid / Hanyeo Sang-soo Im, 2010 Cinematography | Lee Hyung-deok

Cleaning to please and entice…
Jeon Do-yeon
The Housemaid / Hanyeo
Sang-soo Im, 2010
Cinematography | Lee Hyung-deok

Taking on a job as an Au Pair / Housemaid is a welcome change. She will be given her own room and will share her bathroom with only Miss Cho. At first it seems like a dream job. Her dream will quickly transform into a nightmare far harder than any cold stone.

Back in the lush but secluded mansion in Brittany, Sophie is struggling. While the family is polite and even kind, both the wife and husband seem to have an-ongoing debate whether or not they should “teach” the new maid how to do things exactly the way they like them done. The husband, Jean-Pierre Cassel, appears constantly unsatisfied about one thing or another. The wife, expertly played by Jacqueline Bissett, does not seem to disagree as much as she is hesitant to address what are most likely only minor issues that will work themselves out. Valentin Merlet plays their young teenage son who is seemingly amused by the situation. Their young adult daughter, Virginie Ledoyen, is the voice of concern for Sophie. She seems idealistic in her attitude toward the family’s “need” of a live-in maid, but there are numerous hints that this attitude is largely derived from a collegic life and is a passive-aggressive way to prod her father and step-mother.

Well-intentioned on the surface, but this wealthy family seems to struggle with their own level of self-entitlement. Their concerns and politeness seem to be more about "political correctness" than any ethical sense. Virginie Ledoyen / Valentin Merlet / Jacqueline Bisset / Jean-Pierre Cassel La Ceremonie Claude Chabrol, 1996 Cinematography | Bernard Zitzermann

Well-intentioned on the surface, but this wealthy family seems to struggle with their own level of self-entitlement. Their concerns and politeness seem to be more about “political correctness” than any ethical sense.
Virginie Ledoyen / Valentin Merlet / Jacqueline Bisset / Jean-Pierre Cassel
La Ceremonie
Claude Chabrol, 1996
Cinematography | Bernard Zitzermann

The truth is the Lelievre family appears to be fairly normal in their attitude toward their maid. There is a strong element of wealth-guilt within the wife’s interactions, the husband seems over-worked and uses humor to tinge his issues. The son and daughter are both normal children of upper-class privilege. No one in this family is cruel. And most certainly, there is no clear intent to be cruel. This, of course, is Chabrol’s clever way of making the audience squirm. It is hard not to like this family, but as the film moves forward — it becomes challenging to not be annoyed by their unintended treatment of Sophie as inferior and casual disregard for her personal time.

The wife begins to leave notes and lists of tasks she needs Sophie to perform. It is here we know that Sophie is unable to read or write. She clutches the note and runs to her small room where she keeps a child text on phonetics. She struggles to fit the letters and words to the codes in the book. Bernard Zitzermann’s cinematography gradually shifts into warped close-ups which add further distortion to the faces of the characters as they grimace, worry or think. It is an effectively disorienting effect that is not immediately noticed.

No educational assistance, illiterate, misfit or insane. Sophie's frustration is beginning to form into rage. Sandrine Bonnaire La Ceremonie Claude Chabrol, 1996 Cinematography | Bernard Zitzermann

No educational assistance, illiterate, misfit or insane. Sophie’s frustration is beginning to form into rage.
Sandrine Bonnaire
La Ceremonie
Claude Chabrol, 1996
Cinematography | Bernard Zitzermann

As Sophie becomes frustrated, the camera moves in just a bit closer. Finally as she reaches her limit of frustration she begins to find clever but increasingly challenging ways to have the notes read to her so that no one will notice she is unable to read.

Eventually she turns to the one person outside of the family who she has met, Jeanne. Enter Claude Chabrol’s longtime favorite muse, Isabelle Huppert. As with all of her roles, Huppert doesn’t merely play her character — she seems to slip into Jeanne’s skin. Jeanne initially appears to be an eccentric and harmless townie who enjoys gossip and flops about as if she were a child. Jeanne and Sophie start to bond after she assists with one of the notes. It isn’t clear if Jeanne understands that her new friend is illiterate. What is clear is that she wouldn’t care either way. She appears happy to have made a friend. She is even more excited to have made a friend that gains her access to the Lelievre family home. Jeanne appears to have more than a few problems with the Lelievre family. She holds them in disdain. From Jeanne’s perspective, this is a family of fraudulent snobs.

The Scandalous Postal Employee: Child Killer or Mentally-Challenged Misfit? Isabelle Huppert takes a puff La Ceremonie Claude Chabrol, 1996 Cinematography | Bernard Zitzermann

The Scandalous Postal Employee: Child Killer or Mentally-Challenged Misfit?
Isabelle Huppert takes a puff
La Ceremonie
Claude Chabrol, 1996
Cinematography | Bernard Zitzermann

As a postal employee she enjoys peeping into other’s mail. A habit that rightly infuriated Mr. Lelievre. Much like we quickly come to understand about Mr. L he doesn’t care for dealing with issues in appropriate ways. He marches into the post office and accuses Jeanne. Playing innocent, Jeanne provokes his anger to higher level. She pushes every button she can find until Mr. L slaps her. Most likely a very bad choice of action. It isn’t long before The Lelievres decide to inform Sophie that they do not approve of her friendship. She is then advised that she is “free to be friends” with her (as if it is their choice) but she is “not allowed” to have Jeanne over for tea and watch TV in her private room — which seems like an antiquated sort of former servants’ room. This pronouncement seems to push Sophie to a whole new level of frustration. And yet, in a classic move by Chabrol, Sandrine Bonnaire holds back. We are never quite sure of what she thinks or feels.

A bit of fun or anarchy?Isabelle Huppert / Sandrine Bonnaire La Ceremonie Claude Chabrol, 1996 Cinematography | Bernard Zitzermann

A bit of fun or anarchy? Isabelle Huppert / Sandrine Bonnaire
La Ceremonie
Claude Chabrol, 1996
Cinematography | Bernard Zitzermann

Later Zitzermann’s camera starts to move in to slowly distort Bisset’s face as she regains her composure to return to the small party the family is holding. This distortion serves as a sort of signal that Mrs. L is losing her patience with her maid.

Back in South Korea, the newly hired servant is having some issues of her own. On a short family “holiday” the family and Eun-yi Li take off for the summer cottage in the winter. While the husband, wife and daughter sit in the warm hot tub, the Au Pair/ Housemaid is left sitting just outside in the cold. When the cute little girl, Nami, decides she wants to jump into the cold pool — Eun-yi tosses off her towel and jumps into the cold pool with her. The child then returns to the warmth. Eun-yi remains wet and in the cold. Even still, she doesn’t seem to mind.

The family relaxes in the warmth while their housemaid sits patiently in the cold. Jeon Do-yeon as The Housemaid / Hanyeo Sang-soo Im, 2010 Cinematography | Lee Hyung-deok

The family relaxes in the warmth while their housemaid sits patiently in the cold.
Jeon Do-yeon as
The Housemaid / Hanyeo
Sang-soo Im, 2010
Cinematography | Lee Hyung-deok

Later than evening after a disappointing attempt at sex with his very pregnant wife, the husband decides to pay his new housemaid a visit. As she hears footsteps, Eun-yi quickly puts her sweat shirt on. Before she has a chance to gather her thoughts the husband is making his moves. He insist that she have a sip of wine. Then he quietly says, “Let me have a look.” — he pulls the cover off the housemaid and proceeds to touch her body in a sensual tease. Clearly uncomfortable and confused, it is hard to tell if Eun-yi is upset or aroused. It doesn’t really matter. It is clear the husband isn’t going to take no for an answer even if she chose to demand it.

Would you like to suck your master's wine bottle? Does she really have a choice? Jeon Do-yeon / Lee Jung-jae The Housemaid / Hanyeo Sang-soo Im, 2010 Cinematography | Lee Hyung-deok

Would you like to suck your master’s wine bottle? Does she really have a choice?
Jeon Do-yeon / Lee Jung-jae
The Housemaid / Hanyeo
Sang-soo Im, 2010
Cinematography | Lee Hyung-deok

She submits and seems to welcome his touch and sex. Sang-soo Im is not afraid of eroticism. The two actors encage in a highly erotic sex scene. Despite the eroticism, there is an ever-present uncomfortableness about the scene. This is not implied. It is there. Be it a good idea or a bad one, this servant is willing to indulge her master. As she kisses his nude body, the husband takes on the role of “Sex God.”

A Questionable Seduction as The Servant "services" The Master... Erotica pushed to the limits of an R-Rating Jeon Do-yeon / Lee Jung-jae The Housemaid / Hanyeo Sang-soo Im, 2010 Cinematography | Lee Hyung-deok

A Questionable Seduction as The Servant “services” The Master… Erotica pushed to the limits of an R-Rating
Jeon Do-yeon / Lee Jung-jae
The Housemaid / Hanyeo
Sang-soo Im, 2010
Cinematography | Lee Hyung-deok

Clearly, he is more turned on by the adoration than by the woman. He flexes his muscles, drinks his wine and proceeds to have his way with “the help.” Their affair continues. The housemaid begins to fall in love with this self-absorbed man.

Master lost in his own fantasy. Master and Servant Lee Jung-jae The Housemaid Sang-soo Im, 2010 Cinematography | Lee Hyung-Deok

Master lost in his own fantasy. Master and Servant
Lee Jung-jae
The Housemaid
Sang-soo Im, 2010
Cinematography | Lee Hyung-Deok

She also finds herself growing attached and devoted to the child, Nami.  Eun-yi reads a particularly disturbing fairy tale to Nami. Despite the gruesome story, the Au Pair expresses her feelings to the child:

“I love how you are such a good child. You’re not bad-tempered. You’re polite to me.”

Nami answers with the sort of honesty that only a child can provide, “Daddy taught me to be polite. It may seem like a sign of respect, but it’s really putting myself first.”

It is here we are once again reminded that Eun-yi’s experience of the world is limited. She does not think with duplicity, but there is a slight hesitation as she takes in the meaning of what this innocent child is telling her. Miss Cho understands this better than anyone: this family has no respect for anyone other than the people of wealth with whom they share the world’s glory.

Miss Cho continually attempts to both advise and warn Eun-yi that she is still young and desirable. She should leave this “Hell,” find a man and marry. Better to be poor with someone you love than to serve this “scary people.” In a moment of brutal honesty she informs the Au Pair/housemaid that “This job is R.U.N.S. Revolting, ugly, nauseating and shameless. I have wasted my whole life in this place.”

The servant hired to mother the wealthy child who offers politeness as a means of putting her own interests first. The Housemaid / Hanyeo Sang-soo Im, 2010 Cinematography | Lee Hyung-deok

The servant hired to mother the wealthy child who offers politeness as a means of putting her own interests first.
The Housemaid / Hanyeo
Sang-soo Im, 2010
Cinematography | Lee Hyung-deok

 

Unlike Miss Cho, Eun-yi is unable to transform into a cold stone. Eventually this family pushes the young woman to the point of no return. She is meaningless to them. To the man she thought she loved, she is simply flesh with three holes for his pleasure. She is the object of bullying, intimidation and suffers a far greater indignity that seems to drain her of all hope.

“I am going to get revenge. However small, I have to do something.”

One gets the feeling that Miss Cho sees no way for this young woman to seek out vengeance on such a powerful family. This is prominent family who are firmly placed within the class structure of South Korea. And this family’s world is built on corruption and cruelty that seems to fit easily in a culture and society that is increasingly limited to the “have nots.” But Miss Cho does have some power. The young wife has had her twins. The family needs assistance like never before. Miss Cho quits and tosses part of her uniform on the metallic floor. Outraged, the husband demands, “What do you think you are doing?!?!” Miss Cho looks at him and almost trembling in rage answers, “What the hell are doing? You really like living like this?!?”

The quiet daughter, Nami, looks on with a concerned face.

The husband dismiss Miss Cho’s actions, “This is what these people are like. Just ignore her.”

The powerful feel safe in their cocoon. No one can hurt them. Most especially the common servants. He is wrong. Eun-yi gets her vengeance. It is twisted and horrifying. Sang-soo Im turns the tables on the vile family and on his audience. Nothing quite compares the viewer for what comes next.

Look what you made me do. Jeon Do-yeon The Housemaid / Hanyeo Sang-soo Im, 2010 Cinematography | Lee Hyung-deok

Look what you made me do.
Jeon Do-yeon
The Housemaid / Hanyeo
Sang-soo Im, 2010
Cinematography | Lee Hyung-deok

 

Back in France, Sophie and Jeanne finally fully bond over a lunch of freshly picked wild mushrooms and stale wine. As they eat and chat, Chabrol finally allows us some insight into this marginalized women. It is almost shocking when Sophie casually informs Jeanne that she has heard something about her. Jeanne pauses and indicates that she has learned something good. With a slight smile on her face, Sophie tells her that she knows Jeanne killed her own daughter. The response is equally odd. Unbothered, Jeanne calmly states:

“It’s not true. It was her own fault. Anyway, they couldn’t prove it. Want to see a picture?”

Besties! La Ceremonie Claude Chabrol, 1996 Cinematography | Bernard Zitzermann

Besties!
La Ceremonie
Claude Chabrol, 1996
Cinematography | Bernard Zitzermann

Within a few minutes we discover that Sophie murdered her ailing father and then set fire to their home which had just been taken from them to develop luxury condos. Realizing that they are both murderers, they start to giggle like two school girls. What makes this scene so chilling is it’s simplicity. Sophie had grown weary of caring for her father and the one thing she had was taken to make way for luxury living quarters that she would never be able to afford. So she killed her father and burned their humble home to the ground. Jeanne was a single mother unable to support a child. Whether or not the murder was intended is not clear, but there is no remorse. Life is easier without another mouth to feed and the demands of motherhood.

The family dismisses Sophie. She pushes them into a corner. They have no choice. She should be fired. But the head of the house terminates her like a angry man scolding a dog. Essentially, he will allow her some shelter and food for a short while until she finds new employment. Sophie is left to stew in what is clearly a sociopathic mind. As the family gathers to watch the live televised airing of an opera, there is a brief conversation. The family is relieved that they have done the right thing by firing their maid. The problem is that they have told her she can stay on for two weeks until she finds a place to live. Mr. L is cruel in his dismissal. The cruelty is completely understandable, but he has not thought about the anger that is seething just beneath the surface of Sophie’s calm exterior. This is their home. They are safe. No one could ever hurt them. Most certainly not some illiterate common maid. Everyone calm and secure, they settle down to watch the opera.

No time to worry about the help, it's time to enjoy the televised opera. Jacqueline Bisset / Virginie Ledoyen / Jean-Pierre Cassel La Ceremonie Claude Chabrol, 1996 Cinematography | Bernard Zitzermann

No time to worry about the help, it’s time to enjoy the televised opera.
Jacqueline Bisset / Virginie Ledoyen / Jean-Pierre Cassel
La Ceremonie
Claude Chabrol, 1996
Cinematography | Bernard Zitzermann

Sadly, the peasants are outraged and demented. Sophie has secretly let Jeanne into the Lelievre home. The two angry women joke about the vile “bastards” siting in the library with all their fancy books, antiques, television and watching some bourgeoisie opera. And then, Jeanne discovers something in a small room just off from the kitchen: The Lelievre shotgun collection.

Before long Sophie and Jeanne are playing around in the kitchen with the guns. The family hears something. The son suspects that the “weirdo from the postal office” is in the kitchen. Mr. L gets up to send them both out but for good. Only the wife is hesitant. Maybe it’s better to leave it alone. But all three disagree. Mr. L makes his way to the kitchen.

Revolt! La Ceremonie Claude Chabrol, 1996 Cinematography | Bernard Zitzermann

Revolt!
La Ceremonie
Claude Chabrol, 1996
Cinematography | Bernard Zitzermann

 

 

 

Like The Housemaid, these two marginalized and angry women have come to a tipping point. Their “vengeance” is really more of a “judgement.” From the warped perspectives of two people who have been pushed or pulled down all of their lives, they only know a few ways to deal with their anger at a society that rejects them. Typical of the great Chabrol, the carnage that follows is delivered realistically and without any of the normal cinematic tropes the filmmakers often use when filming this sort of horror. Zitzermann’s camera follows. There are no editing tricks. There is no foreboding musical score. Even though we know what is coming, nothing quite prepares us for it.

As these two masterful, entertaining and disturbing films come to their close the viewer is left with several realizations. Perhaps the most important is the reminder that revolt or revolution is never an actual solution, but when one or two take place the impact is devastating and cruel. Neither Chabrol or Im are particularly clear at the close of their films.

In Chabrol’s universe, Sophie and Jeanne have committed horrible acts.

The Servants' Revolt Sandrine Bonnaire / Isabelle Huppert La Ceremonie Claude Chabrol, 1996 Cinematography | Bernard Zitzermann

The Servants’ Revolt
Sandrine Bonnaire / Isabelle Huppert
La Ceremonie
Claude Chabrol, 1996
Cinematography |
Bernard Zitzermann

However, one cannot help but wonder if this all could have been avoided. Why didn’t this community do more to assist this once desperate and struggling mother? Why hasn’t her minister and church attempted to offer her guidance? Instead a judge simply dismisses her and her action. Her church and minister find her crude and childish. They no longer want her help in their charity work or even want her at their church. Sophie is clearly struggling with the solitary life in Brittany, yet the family continually alternates between “hot” and “cold” in their interactions with the maid. They do offer assistance, but it all seems to come with pressure and sideways logic. This is a good family, but they prefer to stay within the confines of this cocoon reserved for the wealthy. They fully realize that they are lucky, but they never think beyond that point. It is as if they have developed a false sense of safety.

In Sang-soo Im’s universe the societal structure of South Korea has become so fractured between the wealthy and impoverished that there is almost a complete disconnect. As he brings this class struggle down to a contained plot of a newly hired maid, we see the plight of the workers being exploited by those to whom they serve. This family is evil. Only their young daughter seems to offer any hope for their redemption. Nami seems to see her world realistically. Her Au Pair has also given her a traumatic experience that will no doubt take form in some way. Which way is not entirely clear.

Unlike Chabrol, Im prefers to leave his audience with a strange and disturbing bit of Surrealism. The family is gathered outside of the mansion in the cold. It is Nami’s birthday. As her drunken parents wish her a happy day and tell her that the world is hers, Nami simply watches them and then walks slowly toward us in an ever increasing sort of fishbowl lens. The Housemaid had told her she was sorry and that she should never forget her. While it is unclear about the future of the world in the hands of Nami, one thing is certain. Nami will not forget The Housemaid. Neither will we.

 

The future is hers. How will she form or play within it? The Housemaid / Hanyeo Sang-soo Im, 2010 Cinematography | Lee Hyung-deok

The future is hers. How will she form or play within it?
The Housemaid / Hanyeo
Sang-soo Im, 2010
Cinematography | Lee Hyung-deok

 

 I last I hope we don’t. As the economic gap shows no sign of diminishing, it is important we take the time to re-evaluate the way we interact with others. And as racism has not been this ugly in decades, we better take a long hard look at how we allow our politicians to move forward. We are living in extreme times. It is time to “re-think” motivations, intentions and the way we respond.

Matty Stanfield, 9.1.2015