Flawed but worthwhile
Roland E. Zwick | Valencia, Ca USA | 06/10/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
In November 2003, after a sensational trial that rocked the Republic of France for four scandal-soaked months, three key executives of that country's ELF oil company were found guilty of massive corporate malfeasance on a scale not seen in Europe since the turbulent days of World War II. The graft, money laundering, and granting of political favors for which these men were convicted extended into the upper reaches of the government as well, so the scandal served a concomitant salutary purpose of finally laying bare that nation's long-established practice of state-sponsored corruption.
"Comedy of Power" is famed director Claude Chabrol's very fictionalized take on the ELF scandal. Yet, while most of the names and many of the details have been changed or even fabricated for the movie, the themes and concerns are obviously very much in keeping with the spirit of the actual event. The always mesmerizing Isabelle Huppert plays a no-nonsense judge who is unrelenting in her pursuit of corporate corruption, obsessed with bringing the culprits - no matter their position or standing in the community - to justice. Refusing to buckle under to pressure from (equally corrupt) higher-ups who believe she is going too far in her investigations, Judge Jeanne Charmant-Killman zeroes in on her "victims," refusing to let go until she gets what she wants. Chabrol and Huppert together create a woman of conviction and strength who, nevertheless, knows her limitations and can even acknowledge what a strain her single-minded determination is placing on her personal life and marriage (whether or not she chooses to do anything about it is another matter).
It`s true that "Comedy of Power" feels a little underdeveloped at times, and the somewhat inconclusive and lackadaisical ending may well leave some in the audience feeling dissatisfied and cheated. For while there is a certain bravery in not succumbing to the need for a pat resolution, the movie leaves us wanting to know more about how everything turns out in the end. Yet, despite this drawback, this is an interesting, and, at times, even gripping little drama that gives us a chance to watch a beautiful, dynamic actress in action. It is Huppert's multi-layered portrayal of a moral crusader who is also very much a flawed and vulnerable human being that rivets our attention and helps us wade through all the arcane trivia of the corporate-world plotting. Chabrol keeps the film moving at an expeditious pace, with a tasty mixture of both humor and suspense thrown in for good measure. But it is in the confrontation scenes between Huppert and her various high profile targets that the film truly engages our attention.
In addition to Huppert, Chabrol has elicited uniformly sharp performances from Francois Berleand, Patrick Bruel, Marilyne Canto, Robin Renucci and Thomas Chabrol (the son of Chabrol and the great actress Stephane Audran). As an ensemble, these gifted performers bring the larger issues into focus while keeping us thoroughly engrossed and entertained at the same time."
Chabrol meets Prime Suspect
Doug Anderson | Miami Beach, Florida United States | 10/20/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"As a fan of Claude Chabrol's darker psychological masterpieces like Les Bonnes Femmes, Les Biches, La Femme Infidele, Le Boucher, La Rupture, Wedding in Blood, Innocents with Dirty Hands, Masques, Cry of the Owl, La Cermonie and Flowers of Evil I have to say that I found Comedy of Power to be insightful as an examination of "power" and the various forms it takes but ultimately lacking some of the punch of Chabrol's darker signature works.
In fact I found Comedy of Power to resemble the much-heralded British mystery series Prime Suspect (which stars Helen Mirren) more than I found it to resemble Chabrol's other works. Like the British series, Comedy of Power focuses not so much on specific crimes but on the masculinist culture of both corporate and police work. In Prime Suspect Helen Mirren must not only battle the lawbreakers but also the lawmakers who are not always interested in accomodating female intrusions into what they see as a traditionally male practice. Similarly, Isabelle Huppert as Jeanne Charmant-Killman battles not just corporate greed in Comedy of Power but male resentment of her success on both the personal and professional fronts. Chabrol is interested in looking at the way power changes people, how it affects their self-image, their perception of reality, their values, and the way they treat others. At first we think that the focus will be on the offenders but soon we realize that the focus is on Jeanne Charmant-Killman herself. In the course of the film Huppert prosecutes several greedy corporate embezzlers and with each success she gains even more public notoriety. But as her notoriety increases her focus narrows and she begins prioritizing her life according to her need for more and more of that professional success. As a result her personal life suffers. So, like many of Chabrol's other films this too is a tale of marital betrayal but here the betrayal is not sexual but an addiction to "power" and a very specific kind of power, the kind that allows her to feel empowered by disempowering men.
Huppert is certainly fascinating to watch as she evolves into a creature that rejects the company of any man that is not subordinate to her. Therefore her favorite male companion is her bright but ambitionless nephew "Felix" (played by Claude Charbrol's son, Thomas). Felix in many ways is like Jeanne in so far as he looks upon the world dispassionately. Jeanne and Felix are reminiscent of many other characters in Chabrol's films who seem not to have any or desire any emotional involvement with anyone. Therefore it makes perfect sense that Chabrol should be interested in the way that this psychopathology plays out in the professional world.
Fascinating film. I prefer Chabrol's films that deal with the dark nature of desire but this one is defintely a valuable addition to Chabrol's already impressive catalog (he's made about 70 films)."