In La Cérémonie, Claude Chabrol, known as the "French Hitchcock," creates one of his most shocking and unforgettable thrillers. Catherine (Jacqueline Bisset - Day for Night, The Deep) hires the illiterate Sophie as her mai... more »d. But Sophie (Sandrine Bonnaire - Femme Fatale) soon falls under the influence of the mysterious Jeanne (Isabelle Huppert -The Piano Player, Merci Pour Le Chocolat), and the stage is set for a tale of murder, violence and betrayal. One of the Chabrol's most acclaimed films, and the winner of numerous international awards, La Cérémonie is a masterpiece of suspense.« less
Doug Anderson | Miami Beach, Florida United States | 06/23/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In the sixties Chabrol was known as the French master of suspense or the French Hitchcock. With 1968' La Femme Infidele & 1969's Le Boucher he was at the peak of his form. he made a few good pictures in the early seventies like La Rupture and Wedding in Blood but his work of the latter half of the seventies and eighties(with one notable exception, Cry of the Owl) was uneven and sometimes just forgettable. Then in the nineties Chabrol made a steady comeback and made what is perhaps the best movie of his career and one of the best films by anyone in the nineties with La Ceremonie. The Hitchcock influence is still there but Chabrol has evolved it into something completely his own. La Ceremonie has a plot which could best be described perhaps as a mystery but there are so many well drawn characters that the film transcends the normal bounds of that genre. Its a first rate drama with three incredible leading actresses. Jaqueline Bisset has never been better or better looking than here as the ex-model and current society wife who hires a mysterious maid with a vacant stare and uncertain past. That maid is played by France's top actress Sandrine Bonnaire and her every move is captivating. Isabelle Huppert plays the pig tailed postal employee who befriends Bonnaire and the two create onscreen magic together. Chabrol's brand of mystery puts character over plot so though you have an intereting plot unfolding you are in no hurry to get there. The wealthy family that Bonnaire works for(Bisset, husband and two children) are each given at least one interesting dimension and subplot line of their own to make this one rich movie experience. A movie you will feast on more than once. Chabrol endings are highly original and you never see them coming so sit back and enjoy with full knowledge you are being entertained by a master."
You Can't Stop Watching
R. W. Rasband | Heber City, UT | 06/26/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a terrifying little thriller about the psychopathy lurking in the most mundane places. Bonnaire is chillingly affectless as an illiterate housekeeper, and Huppert is equally unnerving as an unhinged postmistress. Separately, they wouldn't have done what they did; put together by a horrible accident of fate (or by a malevolent god) they perform a horrible act on a bourgeois family that seems inevitable from the first frame. Perhaps the most frightening aspect of the film is that the seemingly innocent family actually unwittingly provoke the atrocity inflicted on them because of the casual cruelty of the class divide between them and the two maniacs. The most famous, horrific scene in the film involves no visible bloodshed at all--it's when Huppert discovers a crucial terrible secret about Bonnaire, and instead of a normal shocked reaction, the two of them giggle like schoolgirls. This is based on Ruth Rendell's novel, "A Judgement in Stone" and while you can quibble about the casting (the two are middle-aged hags in the book, not two sexy, relatively young women as in the movie) it's still a surprisingly faithful adaptation."
Chabrol at his absolute best
LGwriter | Astoria, N.Y. United States | 11/04/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Perfect casting contributes to the intense momentum that Chabrol develops in this archetypal tale (for Chabrol) of upper middle class rude luxe and working class desperation. Sandrine Bonnaire is the soft-spoken girl whom Jacqueline Bisset, the idly rich wife of a well-to-do industrialist, hires as the family's housekeeper. Bonnaire's character is hiding a secret from the family which is gradually revealed.In the course of that revelation, Bonnaire befriends the town postmistress, brilliantly played by Isabelle Huppert, who is essentially incapable of rendering a bad performance in any work she appears in. Huppert's postmistress is the opposite in character to Bonnaire's wallflower. Brash, intense, and happy to flaunt authority, the postmistress encourages the housekeeper to express herself, to break out of her shell regardless of the secret she wishes no one to know about, to enjoy life even without the wealth that Bonnaire's employers have and that Huppert resents so vehemently.As the housekeeper comes to trust the postmistress more and more, and, based on that, becomes more assertive, the postmistress tells her what she really wants. The psychological interplay between these two characters is done so superbly that the tremendously shocking ending is completely credible and all the more powerful for it. The film's setting, a small rural French town, also contributes to its power, and is an equally superb choice that subtly underlines the contrast of the highly educated wealthy who retreat from the world, and the street smart working class who make the world what it is--in particular, foisting it when and where they can on their bitter rivals, the rich, for position in the world they know.Based on a true set of events, La Ceremonie is a perfect convergence of Chabrol's continuing, near-obsessive focus on the corrupt wealthy who consistently degrade the have-nots, and the latter who deplore the former. A number of Chabrol's films have been released on DVD as of this writing (November 2003), but this has not, which is truly a shame."
Fascinating and disturbing
Peter Shelley | Sydney, New South Wales Australia | 07/28/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Based on Ruth Rendell's novel A Judgment in Stone, Claude Chabrol's 1995 film is fascinating and disturbing. Illiterate Sandrine Bonnaire joins the French countryhouse of Jacqueline Bisset and Jean-Pierre Cassell as a maid and along the way befriends postal clerk Isabelle Huppert. Chabrol's previous concerns have been about the bourgeoisie exploiting the working classes but Bisset and her family are nothing but kind to Bonnaire so their fate seems cruel and unwarranted. Bonnaire's Sophie is meant to be dim because she eats chocolates and watches TV indiscriminately. We're left to ponder Huppert's character, who is clearly unbalanced and who leads Bonnaire astray. Huppert is Chabrol's favourite modern actress and he rewards her with big closeups. Her Jeanne is funny, wears plaits and chews gum and is dangerously irrational. She has a great monologue in profile about the death of her daughter which she delivers in one take while she drives, knifing away sentiment yet still conveying the sadness in her Garbo-like mask face. It's interesting to see the still beautiful Bisset play a mother of teenage children and to hear her speak in French. You can sense her pleasure in this role and Chabrol let's us see her great legs. Chabrol is too subtle a director to manipulate us with the conventions of the thriller. His soundtrack is bare and the climactic violence leaves us shocked yet not unsurprised. I like the use of colour in the film - Bisset's yellow teacups, Huppert's salmon car, Bonnaire's blue jumper with daisies - and the way the final irony repeats the shock of the murder we have already witnessed."
An Unsettling Look At Madness and Murder, Nicely Done
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 11/29/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This icy suspense film by Claude Chabrol slowly builds to a violent and unnerving end. La Ceremonie takes its name from the rituals leading to the walk to the guillotine, with that inevitable and bloody climax.
Sophie (Sandrine Bonnaire) is hired by Catherine Lelievre (Jacqueline Bisset) to be the live-in maid at the Lelievre home. The Lelievre family is wealthy and live in a large, somewhat isolated home on the outskirts of St. Coulombe, a village several miles from the largest town. The father, Georges (Jean-Pierre Cassel), is a middle-aged businessman. He enjoys opera. He hunts and keeps two shotguns in the house. Catherine, elegant and busy, manages an art gallery. Their teen-aged son and daughter are smart and well mannered. Georges' daughter Melinda (Virginie Ledoyen) by his first marriage is in college but often visits. They are an upper-class family who, while friendly, take servants as a matter of course. At the 20th birthday party for Melinda, one guest offers a quote that at first seems just a little off. "There are aspects of good people I find loathsome, least of all the evil within them."
Sophie is disturbingly passive. She does a good job, but says little, watches the television in her room, walks to the village. We learn she is illiterate. She meets Jeanne (Isabelle Huppert), the postal clerk for the village. Jeanne is friendly enough with others, but with a tightening of her mouth she can instantly turn from curious to dissatisfied. Her gestures are quick, abrupt. When she spears a mushroom, her fork strikes the plate, over and over. She carries her resentments like treasures, and shares them with Sophie. We learn each has a history of...if not tragedy, certainly of unpleasantness. Sophie's infirm father whom she'd been caring for died in a fire, and so did 15 others. Jeanne's four-year-old daughter died, kicked and burned. "I heard you killed your daughter," Sophie says to Jeanne. "It's not true," Jeanne says. "It was her own fault. Anyway, they couldn't prove it...How could a mother kill her own child? Even if it wasn't normal?" And did you set the fire that killed your father, Jeanne asks. They look at each, then break into giggles. They fall on Jeanne's bed tickling each other.
The Lelievres disapprove of Jeanne. They tell Sophie she can't have Jeanne in the house. Sophie begins to show some of Jeanne's resentments. Finally Georges Lelievre tells Sophie she must go. Jeanne says Sophie must stay with her. Jeanne's resentments explode. "They're pathetic," she tells Sophie. "What do they know? They've got it all. Their biggest worry is what color car to buy. Or which cousin stole half the inheritance. I'd be happy with a tenth of what they have. I'd have the life I wanted instead of the opposite. They won't get away with it." That night Georges and Catherine, with Melinda and their son, settle down in front of the television to watch Mozart's Don Giovanni. Jeanne and Sophie drive to the house with the intention of getting Sophie's things. Jeanne is an instigator, impetuous and quick. Sophie is a follower, passive and somehow unconnected. But perhaps not always. Together they make a combination of madness that leads to a bloody and unsettling conclusion.
This is a movie that takes its time and is all the better for it. We don't really realize when our feelings are moving from sympathy to unease with Sophie and from alertness to dislike with Jeanne. But halfway into the movie you know things are going to happen that you may not predict and that you probably won't like. Huppert and Bonnaire play to their strengths. As you see the disturbing elements of the plot evolve, you know its because the two characters' personalities are bringing out the worst in each other. The two actresses do marvelous jobs.
The DVD looks just fine. There is a 20 minute documentary about the movie with Chabrol, Huppert and Bonnaire, as well as an insert featuring an essay by film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum."