As summer wedding season approaches, those of you single men hoping to make like a wedding crasher and pick up a bridesmaid who is hot-to-trot may be reminded to do so at your own risk after viewing Claude Chabrol’s chillingly twisted film The Bridesmaid.
Based on Ruth Rendell’s novel, the then seventy-six year old former French New Wave legend and Hitchcock devotee Chabrol once “again takes up a sharp instrument and directs it at one of his favorite targets, the family,” (Manohla Dargis, The New York Times) in this sinister look at dangerous young love.
As it opens, we’re invited into the seemingly normal suburban French home occupied by Christine (Aurore Clement), the single, middle-aged beautician mother of two daughters and a son. Packing along a gift in the form of a cherished backyard statue that bears an uncanny resemblance to the mother, the family sets out to meet her boyfriend Gerard Courtois (Bernard Le Cog) before he sets off for a business trip to Italy and nearly vanishes from the entire picture. While Courtois is a man who, despite not being quite the Kevin Costner Christine was dreaming of-- as a daughter informs her-- is as courteous as his name implies, the meeting seems to affect Christine's son the most.
While it can be said that her son, the contracting employee Philippe Tardieu (Benoit Magimel) who shares an unnaturally close (read: creepy) relationship with his mother may see Gerard on some level as a rival, he seems far more perturbed about the loss of the statue. His feelings of annoyance at his mother’s gift to a man she readily admits she has mixed feelings about is lessened in a surprising way when Philippe becomes transfixed by the beguiling Senta Bellange (Laura Smet)at his sister’s wedding. Something in the bridesmaid’s curious expression, her cool beauty, and challenging air reminds him of the statue (subtext: his mother) and he decides at once that-- like the statue he went and stole back from the absent Gerard-- he must possess the young woman as well.
Although impervious to his flirtations at the wedding, we quickly realize that the aloof Senta prefers to dangle herself as bait and reel men in on her own time as soon after, she shows up alone at his door, drenched from the rain, and after changing into his mother’s robe, seduces Philippe on the spot. Immediately following their coupling, Senta begins to share thoughts that would have sent most people running (even, like Philippe, from their own home) as she tells her new lover that he is her destiny and they are one. Later, the former model and exotic dancer turned female actor (she abhors the sexist term "actress") informs Philippe that not only is she his completely, but her home is now his and they should always think alike and never disagree. Somehow, bewitched first by sex and then her intensity, Philippe falls even harder for Senta and finds their love tested shortly into their whirlwind, atypical courtship when she requests a murderous favor from him to prove his love.
Eerie, diabolical and with excellent performances that try and more often than not succeed in making up for shortcomings in the script including some dubious characterization, it’s quintessential Chabrol. While strictly keeping with his oeuvre of evil lurking in the hearts of families that has comprised his work for decades, intriguingly, as Dargis noted, this recent offering proves that “while his aim remains true, his touch has become gentler, more forgiving,” as the film careens to a slightly unsatisfactory and rushed finale that adheres to Chabrol's inclination for vagueness.
Nominated for the Grand Prix at the Flanders International Film Festival, 2004’s The Bridesmaid won’t be a film that stands out on the same level as some of his lauded New Wave classics and while I didn’t find it as compelling as his other recent work, Merci Pour le Chocolat, neither his fans nor those who have an interest in trolling weddings for brief encounters won’t want to miss it.