Claude Chabrol is a grandfather of French cinema; he is one of the major figures of the French New Wave who is still making frequent, full-length films. Recently released in the US on DVD, Chabrol’s 2004 film, The Bridesmaid (La Demoiselle d’honneur), is a tightly wound thriller that has been compared to Hitchcock, and seems classic yet altogether contemporary.
Another Chabrol film based on a Ruth Rendell novel (the last was 1995’s La Ceremonie), the main plot revolves around Philippe (Benoit Magimel), whose sister gets married and has Senta (Laura Smet) in the wedding party as a titular bridesmaid. There is something instantly between the steady, responsible Philippe and the wild-child Senta, who, we learn, changes her name every six months and certainly has secrets in her past deeper than that. Philippe gives up his reliable persona when he meets Senta; he becomes obsessed with her, irresponsible with his duties and his family. Senta casts a spell on him; she does not seem like a fully realized character, however, and is instead everything that Philippe desires in his own life. In this way, Chabrol fails to fully develop the most fascinating aspect of his film: his femme fatale.
There are several subplots that also come to fruition within the main story, such as Philippe’s mother and her sleazy boyfriend, Philippe’s younger sister’s rebelliousness and Senta’s tango-dancing stepmother. None of these threads are woven together until the film’s final third, and even then, there are far fewer answers than questions. I did not feel as if I was watching a film with a definite plot and ending; instead, I was given scenes and impressions and made to put those ends together myself. This is a quality I normally love, but in a movie so full of suspense and mystery, I found myself wanting a little more. Chabrol is still going strong at almost eighty years old, and while this is a powerful effort, I only would have liked to see something more. What that something might have been is my own mystery.