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La cérémonie, June 30

Isabelle Huppert: Passion and Contradiction

Friday, June 30, 2006
7:00 p.m. La cérémonie
Claude Chabrol (France, 1995)

(The Ceremony). Into the cozily smug world of an industrialist and his family—a world brilliantly inscribed by Chabrol in a few quick strokes of the camera—comes a new live-in maid, Sophie (Sandrine Bonnaire). Through her eyes, the large Normandy château in which the Lelièvres (Jacqueline Bisset and Jean-Pierre Cassel) go through the motions of being happy and cultured is suddenly foreign: the camera keeps stopping, as if stunned. Sophie, silenced by being secretly illiterate, meets an insolent working-class townie named Jeanne. Could Jeanne, a dangerous brat with aspirations to poetry, be portrayed by anyone but Isabelle Huppert? With her, Sophie sheds her slave mask; the chemistry between the two proves incendiary. More psychological thriller than policier, more class thriller than psychological thriller, and etched with a Buñuelian dry humor, La cérémonie is a study of "the madness of the twosome," and then some. Chabrol: "I have heard rich industrialists saying that class warfare is over, but it's really not up to them."

—Judy Bloch

• Written by Chabrol, Caroline Eliacheff, from the novel A Judgment in Stone by Ruth Rendell. Photographed by Bernard Zitzermann. With Sandrine Bonnaire, Isabelle Huppert, Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-Pierre Cassel. (111 mins, In French with English subtitles, Color, 35mm, From French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, permission Janus/Criterion Collection)