Screened as part of NZIFF 2001
The discreet charm of the bourgeoisie is appraised once more with uncharitable relish by Claude Chabrol, France’s veteran connoisseur of murder; the parlour game. Before we even know what the crime is, it’s clear that the star suspect is Isabelle Huppert. She’s Mika, chic, white-gloved CEO of a Swiss chocolate factory, and a committed patron of charities and artists, amongst whom her brilliant concert-pianist husband, André, takes pride of place. ‘People should not be unhappy,’ she states with a briskness that brooks no argument. The queen of inscrutability, a mesmerising Huppert makes keeping a straight face seem like a private joke which we might not wish to share. It is she who mixes the nightcaps.
Chabrol, however, is an equal-opportunity misanthrope. He provides ample evidence to attribute the worst possible motivation to virtually every other character as well.
The plot is initiated by the revelation that André’s truculent teenage son from an earlier marriage may not in fact be his son, but a boy swapped in the maternity home for a daughter! The arrival of a young woman who may or may not be that daughter provokes dangerous insecurities in all but the unheeding musical genius. He’s merely delighted that his beautiful visitor, unlike his putative son, possesses serious musical talent. (What separates factory owners from artists is as vital to this film as it is to The Taste of Others, also on our programme.)
While the air resounds with their piano virtuosity (notably Liszt’s Funérailles), other murky events from the past begin to assume new and sinister significance. Guiding us elegantly through the lifestyles of the rich and the famous, Chabrol, at 70, is supremely at ease, the mordant manipulator of our expectations and their bad behaviour. — BG
Mika may bring her stepson a Fritz Lang video as a gift, but of Chabrol’s two tutelary deities it is Hitchcock who is dominant here: in the knowingly sinister use of staircases and mirrors; the increasing sense of déjà vu that, Vertigo-like, tightens around the protagonists; above all in Isabelle Huppert’s performance as Mika, which has echoes of Ingrid Bergman’s in Notorious, or even, as she neurotically polices the family mansion, of Judith Anderson’s Mrs Danvers in Rebecca. — Keith Reader, Sight & Sound, 6/01