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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Claude Chabrol est à son affaire

by Michaël Melinard

Claude Chabrol is in his element - a film review

Translated by Ann Drummond

Translated Sunday 26 February 2006, by Ann Drummond

Chabrol’s new film Comedy of Power takes a swipe at the political, economic and legal establishment. Freely inspired by the ’Elf affair’, France’s biggest post-war financial and political scandal, it is a real treat. Murky waters indeed...

Comedy of Power (L’Ivresse du Pouvoir)

By Claude Chabrol.
France. 1 hr 50 mins.

Humeau (François Berléand), the president of a large company, is used to living the high life. Often operating on the edges of the law, he enjoys the support of politicians who protect him from the wrath of justice. However, when he crosses paths with the ambitious magistrate Jeanne Charmant Kilman (Isabelle Huppert), his charmed life is turned upside down. Doors which would normally be opened before him are now slammed in his face. Before he even has time to understand the new order of things, he finds himself under arrest. In spite of his stature, he is no match for the slight figure of the examining magistrate. Her frail physique conceals a steely determination, enabling her to follow the threads of an investigation which leads her right to the top. Entrusted with a degree of power to which she is unaccustomed, she endangers her personal life through this high-level flirting.

Claude Chabrol, a filmmaker of both good taste and excess, normally delights in taking a dig at the provincial middle classes. With Comedy of Power, the master goes several rungs higher on the social ladder with his attack on the upper echelons of the political and financial world. Of course we are talking about fiction here, and Chabrol has deliberately refrained from naming real people. Nevertheless, in a work freely inspired by the Elf affair, there are many links with the real life comedy which dominated the legal and media scene at the start of the millennium. The director actually marks them out with a warning at the beginning of the feature film. "Any similarity to living persons is, as they say, purely coincidental." If this ironic tone shows a playful side to the new Chabrol, the true value of the work lies in its reflection on power and its guardians, as much as in its delving into the personal lives of the characters.

Although he refrains from any moral judgement, Chabrol pokes fun at those wielding political, economic and legal power, revealing the cowardice, dirty dealings and bully-boy tactics used by some of them. One of this filmmaker’s talents is in knowing how to depict characters almost to the point of caricature, without ever completely falling into that trap. An example is Descarts (Jacques Boudet), a politician whose loud southern accent and tactics bring to mind those of a former Minister of the Interior.

But in this seventh collaboration with Isabelle Huppert, an actress he has come to use almost obsessively, the filmmaker also gives us a wonderful portrait of a woman. Single-handedly, she manages to embody the contradictions of a legal system in which the law is in direct competition with human subjectivity.

Chabrol’s characters sail around in murky waters. Even his heroes are not above suspicion. With Chabrol, it is tempting to believe that cynicism rules supreme. In fact, it is rather the sharp eye of a film director, the privileged observer of his contemporaries, which is in full control. There is certainly a touch of disillusionment about the men, women and their behaviour. But, and herein lies the charm of this director who works half-way between reality and fiction, there is also a genuine pleasure in watching their actions.

Michaël Melinard.

For more information on the Elf scandal, see:

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