Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Our Beautiful Friend The Slut. Bel Ami: A Review

BEL AMI

The novel Bel Ami is one that I've curiously skipped in my life.  Therefore, I cannot vouch for how close the film version stays to the Guy de Maupassant novel, which I'm led to believe is a classic.  As always, I only judge the film version of any book, musical, or play based on what I see, not on its source material.  Having said all that, Bel Ami is a film that is pretty to look at (bringing a line from Cabaret to mind: even the orchestra is beautiful) but there is nothing within Bel Ami that would make what we see truly believable.

Georges Duroy (Robert Pattinson) is a poor ex-soldier who has washed upon the Belle Epoque era Paris.  A fortuitous encounter with an old Army buddy leads him to the salon of Monsieur et Madame Forestier (Philip Glenister and Uma Thurman), wealthy and influential patrons of a political newspaper.  At said salon we meet the owners/publishers, Monsieur Rousset (Colm Meanie) and his wife, Virginie (Kristen Scott Thomas), as well as the Rousset and Forestier's mutual friend, Madame Clotilde (Christina Ricci).  Being Robert Pattinson, all the women become infatuated with Georges.  Clotilde is the first to fall into his bed, even purchasing a little 'love nest' for their trysts.  Georges is infatuated with Madeleine Forestier, but she tells him she won't be his mistress.  She will, however, be his mentor in helping him rise up the ladder of the newspaper as well as in the various beds of Parisian society.

Soon enough, Georges does rise, and in another good turn, Monsieur Forestier dies.  Madeleine marries Georges, and together, they rise higher, but Monsieur Rousset won't help him and dismisses Georges' pretensions.  Angry at being snubbed, he quickly seduces the virginal Virginie, who quickly becomes needy and obsessive, all the while keeping Clotilde as his secondary mistress and being insanely jealous of the attentions Madeleine keeps with a mysterious Comte.  Through manipulations Georges quickly discovers he's being used to both enrich others and lead France to war, but he turns the tables by bringing the police to catch Madeleine in an act of adultery.  With him free to marry again, he gets the Rousset's willful daughter to elope, and while they don't actually get married or do anything the appearance of impropriety is enough to get them to agree to a marriage between Georges and their daughter, with a distraught Virginie in hysterics (such as wearing black and a veil to the ceremony).  Bel Ami (the women's common nickname for Georges) ends with him at the church taking in all the women he's used to get to the top. 

Bel Ami is the type of film people say, "well, at least the costumes were pretty," and  Odile Dicks-Mireaux's work is impressive, as is the music from Lakshman Joseph De Saram and Rachel Portman (the latter who excels in lush, romantic scores for period films).  Everything else about Bel Ami, though, falters badly.

Let's start out with the acting.  I have tried over the course of Robert Pattinson's career to give him the benefit of the doubt, but Bel Ami should be proof positive that he simply cannot act.  The former model is adept at standing still and striking a pose, and when he does so he does it well.  However, when it comes to creating a character Pattinson fails again and again.  Apart from his physical beauty there is nothing in his Georges that would compel all these women to fall over themselves to get into his bed and continue to be so obsessed or willing to be part of his harem.

Georges isn't witty, isn't charming, doesn't seduce women with words or even bother to court them.  They just come to him because he's Robert Pattinson, nothing more. 

If that weren't bad and unbelievable enough, Georges doesn't actually do anything to keep them interested or himself interesting (apart from being Robert Pattinson, beautiful person who can purse his lips and nothing more).  Given that Madeleine for example, is the brains behind the Diary of a Cavalry Officer series of articles, why would or should she bother with a lunkhead like Georges?  There are efforts to suggest his ambitions are to try to get away from his poverty-stricken past, but since we see him almost always as this wealthy young man, we can't believe that his malevolence (however weak it is onscreen) is motivated by a fierce determination to get away from his poor past.

In fact, Georges as portrayed by Pattinson never seems motivated by anything.  I'll say this much about Robert Pattinson: he DOES try.  If anything, Pattinson as a model always TRIES to act.  It just seems he can't get the hang of it. 

At one point in Bel Ami, he has to chase Virginie out of the love nest because Clotilde is coming.  Somewhere along the line, Rachel Bennette's screenplay manages to turn de Maupassant's novel into a bedroom farce, but no one appeared to clue in the actors.  Co-directors Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod weren't trying to play this scene for laughs, but it does leave one chuckling as to how he has to get one woman out to get another woman in.

Even stranger, Thurman's Madeleine appears almost orgasmic when discussing politics even while Pattinson stands before her.  The fact that she appears more interested in people's minds than in R-Pattz's body makes her unique among his co-stars, but it doesn't save her performance from being almost comical at times.  Come to think of it, Scott Thomas' obsessive Virginie is almost equally funny in how she becomes whiny towards Georges.

I'll say that Ricci is an underused actress in general and in Bel Ami in particular, but I think she gave as good a performance as the script allowed her.  She didn't have much to work with, but her Clotilde appeared to genuinely love Georges through think and thin without being obsessed, something like a balance between Virginie and Matilde.

We don't really know what motivates Georges, and Pattinson is too shallow a presence to allow us to either sympathize with Georges' determination to sleep his way to the top or be repulsed by his behavior.  None of the women have any real reason (logical that is) to help him move upwards in Parisian society.  Even if the characters and motivations weren't so shallow, the speed in which Bel Ami flows, like hitting all plot points without stopping to see the why of the story, leaves us no time or interest to see how Georges turns up: whether he succeeds or gets his comeuppance.

Still, the costumes were nice.

DECISION: D+    

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