La Ceremonie (Chabrol, 1995)

There’s a brilliant moment at the end of Claude Chabrol’s La Ceremonie in which housemaid Sophie (Sandrine Bonnaire) and her blue-collar friend Jeanne (Isabelle Huppert) stand atop a staircase gleefully overlooking an unbeknownst wealthy family huddled together on the couch listening to Mozart. For a split second, these working class girls have the upper hand. In one shot, Chabrol captures a small and devious victory in the escalating class struggle that’s gone on for nearly the entire film. The small disagreements, the calculating grievances, and the petty discords all lead to a devilish ending drenched in blood and irony, coated in sly subtext.

Chabrol’s film reminded me of a subtler version of Haneke’s Funny Games, yet La Ceremonie is an altogether more accomplished feat.  Instead of relying on shock value, or reflexive artifice, Chabrol enraptures his story in mood, atmosphere, and character, burning through scenes with a manipulative and deceiving mise-en-scene that frames small, fleeting glances of jealousy, indifference, and hate. In La Ceremonie, the corridors of mortal sin, brimful with black humor and underlining menace, “reveal the hidden evil in supposedly the best people,” as one earlier wealthy party-goer so aptly foreshadows.

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