Some of Claude Chabrol’s most problematic films limit themselves to a circumscribed view of female identity and expression, like the ground-breaking but dated Les Biches, whose “open” ending implies that its main character’s lesbianism was only a figment of her imagination. This is why it’s tempting to look at the director’s remarkable Story of Women, given its strong feminist stance, as a corrective. To that film’s company we can add The Bridesmaid, a gripping lark that finds Chabrol lithely sorting through the serpentine snarl of bourgie behavior and gazing at the attic clock’s pendulum-sway between fantasy and reality. Senta (Laura Smet), an impulsive creature who claims to be an actress and lives in the cellar of a musty old manse, meets Philippe (Benoît Magimel) at his sister’s wedding, quickly seducing him and lavishing him with obsessive declarations of love before proposing a queer-murderous pact to validate their feelings for one another. Her enigmatic she-devilness might be offensive if that were all to the film, which casts a large, mischievously cool shadow of suspense across all its characters. The question here isn’t whether Senta is simply passionate or out of her fucking gourd, but whether the gorgeous Philippe is the greater mythomaniac. Don’t let the statue of a woman’s head Philippe hordes and sensually kisses at night fool you: This is not a symbol of oedipal struggle (Chabrol is too clever for such simple psychoanalysis), but an albatross of his controlling and insecure male nature—a seemingly instinctual urge that he permits to get the better of him. Chabrol’s scrutiny of human behavior is remarkable for its laidback intensity and absence of finger-wagging. The less said about the story’s plot machinations the better, but this much can be revealed without spoiling the film’s pleasure: that Philippe’s repeated attempts to appease women (Senta, his mother, two sisters, and an elderly client who complains about a misaligned object in her new bathroom) is a profound consideration of how chaos is born and passed between the sexes.
Score:Cast: Benoît Magimel, Laura Smet, Aurore Clément, Bernard Le Coq, Solène Bouton, Anna Mihalcea, Michel Duchaussoy, Suzanne Flon, Eric Seigne, Pierre-François Dumeniaud Director: Claude Chabrol Screenwriter: Claude Chabrol, Pierre Leccia Distributor: First Run Features Running Time: 110 min Rating: NR Year: 2004 Buy: Video, Book