La Ceremonie (DVD)
Directed by Claude Chabrol
Director Claude Chabrol is often referred to as the French Hitchcock, but a film like the unsettling La Ceremonie (1995) reveals the distinct difference between the two filmmakers. Though Chabrol, like many French New Wave directors, is an admitted devotee of the suspense master (having authored a study of Hitchcock’s work with Eric Rohmer), he went on to develop his own, more understated style. While La Ceremonie is a tale of suspense and psychological drama, it also functions as a portrait of class warfare and a subtle character study. Catherine (Jacqueline Bisset) hires Sophie (Sandrine Bonnaire) as a maid to her family’s estate outside a small French village. The family is initially pleased with Sophie’s hard work until her increasing isolation and clandestine illiteracy create a widening gap with her employers. When a nosy postal worker (Isabelle Huppert) befriends her, the tension begins to slowly rise, leading to a shocking climax. However, anyone seeking Hitchcockian thrills will likely be disappointed. Where Hitchcock built his suspense through mounting stakes in an inherently suspenseful situation (mistaken identity, the early introduction of a sociopath, etc.), Chabrol lets a languid pace and socially awkward interactions establish an unsettling tone. It’s the offhanded nature of the final violence that makes the film so effective. This DVD edition transfers nicely, and includes an interesting making-of featurette.