Chabrol’s everyday evil in “The Bridesmaid”
Who hasn’t been madly in love at least once? Claude Chabrol’s new film “The Bridesmaid” is a realistic thriller that contemplates what could happen if the one you love madly is actually mad.
Chabrol, in his fifth decade of filmmaking, is often compared to Hitchcock. But in a Hitchcock film the evil is often explained and there’s a clear victim. Chabrol’s horror is subtler. While a character like Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) in “Psycho” is killed suddenly and dramatically, in Chabrol’s “Merci Pour le Chocolat,” for example, Mika Muller-Polonski (Isabelle Huppert) puts something in your cocoa, bids you farewell, and waits for a call from the cops after the drugs have kicked in and you’ve driven into the ravine; murder is just a part of the daily routine. Similarly, in “The Bridesmaid,” evil is a feature of everyday life, the nature of which only becomes apparent gradually, inevitably forcing characters into the role of accomplice or victim.
The film opens like a dream, the camera floating through the blue light of dawn in a quiet French suburb, ending at a home where the family’s daughter has disappeared. This mirrors what is going to happen to our hero, Philippe Tardieu (Benoit Magimel), when he meets one of his sister’s bridesmaids, Senta (Laura Smet). It’s all very dreamy until some unsettling things happen. They meet at his sister’s wedding. Philippe goes home to work and Senta follows him there, declares her love, and jumps his bones.
Almost immediately, Philippe senses that things are off. Senta tells fantastical stories of wandering the globe and of being an actor. Most disturbingly, she has lots of expectations for the man she just met. But Philippe, a contractor, who has been playing man of the house, finds all of this exciting. Having spent most of his life caring for his flighty mother and sisters, he welcomes Senta as an enticing distraction.
Until now, his obscure object of desire has been the stone statue head that sat in their garden, which oddly resembles Senta. A gift from Philippe’s ne’er-do-well father to his mother, Christine, she impulsively gives the stone head to her boyfriend, Gerard (Bernard Le Coq), who keeps the gift but ditches Christine. Philippe steals it back after Gerard has moved, and hides the head in a wardrobe like he’s concealing a forbidden love.
While Philippe plays caretaker to everyone, Senta lays in bed in the cellar apartment of the rundown building she owns, waiting for Philippe to come to her. On arrival, she tells him there are four things to do to prove your love for someone else—plant a tree, write a poem, sleep with someone of your own gender, and kill a stranger. Philippe thinks she’s just being odd, but when a vagabond who squats on her property is reported murdered on the docks, Philippe jokingly takes the credit—to Senta’s delight. She reports later that she has also killed someone—Gerard.
Suddenly, “The Bridesmaid” feels like Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train,” but there are no bodies. The vagabond turns out to be alive, and Philippe runs into Gerard. Only later when the police approach Philippe about an actual murder, does the true horror of what has happened become evident.