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  • PG
  • Drama
  • 2006
  • 105 mins

A Comedy Of Power

A Comedy Of Power

Synopsis

Claude Chabrol seeks thrills in France's most devastating political scandal of recent history. Isabelle Huppert is his star for the seventh time

About

"Any resemblance to persons living or dead is, as they say, coincidental."

It may open with this archly diffident disclaimer, but the events and characters in A Comedy Of Power are plainly drawn from the Elf Aquitaine scandal, wherein the fraudulent practices of a state-supported French oil company were exposed in a public inquiry conducted by fearless investigating judge Eva Joly.

Coming from France's master of suspense Claude Chabrol, the film makes for a surprisingly anemic affair. The political particulars are here reduced to the odd furtive gathering of supercilious men with cigars, while the sound of a doorbell represents the film's moment of highest tension. As a conspiracy thriller all this is far from riveting, which perhaps explains the film's English title - although anyone expecting this particular 'comedy' to evoke howls of laughter from the aisles is bound to be equally disappointed.

No, this is a study of the seductive allure of power, although its level-headed restraint makes even the film's original French title ('L'Ivresse Du Pouvoir' , or 'power's intoxicaton') seem only partly apt. Protagonist Jeanne Charmant-Killman (Huppert) may once be shown having a midnight swig of booze straight from the bottle, but the film itself remains steadfastly sober.

In the opening scenes we see CEO Michel Humeau (Berléand) juggling personal and business matters in his lofty office, before descending (both literally and metaphorically) in the company lift to the ground floor where he will be humiliatingly arrested by plainclothes officers, driven straight to prison and then asked to remove all of his clothes. "You know who I am?", he keeps asking. In fact he is but the first in a long line of powerful men who will be brought down by Jeanne Charmant-Killman (now there's a surname for a ball-breaker) in her judicial investigation into corruption and embezzlement. This determined judge has come from nowhere to earn herself the nickname 'Piranha'. As she confronts the French establishment with their habitual wrongdoing, she too will struggle to balance her work with her home life, and to cling to her own new-won power without becoming a mere pawn or falling from her precarious perch.

In keeping with Chabrol's vision of power as an eternal game where only the identities of the players change, A Comedy Of Power is by necessity a film of incompleteness. We never see the shadowy old boys' network of back-scratching privilege brought once and for all to an end. We never learn what becomes of Jeanne's fragile marriage to Philippe (Renucci), or of her career, or of her blossoming relationship with her husband's slacker nephew Félix (Chabrol). Things are left open-ended, not so much to generate suspense as to mimic the patterns of life - which makes the film an oddly unsatisfying experience to sit through.

Two things rescue A Comedy Of Power. The first is the draw of the Chabrol brand name, whose deterioration over the last decade or so this film frankly does little to salvage. The second is Huppert who, in her seventh collaboration with Chabrol, manages to embody in a single character all the hunger, cruelty, delusion, isolation and vulnerability that power brings. In the end it is not quite enough to make the overall film interesting - but she certainly keeps it more than watchable.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Patrick Bruel, Marilyne Canto, Pierre Vernier, Philippe Duclos, François Berléand, Thomas Chabrol, Jean- François Balmer , Isabelle Huppert, Jacques Boudet, Robin Renucci
  • Director: Claude Chabrol
  • Writer: Odile Barski, Claude Chabrol
  • Producer: Patrick Godeau
  • Photographer: Eduardo Serra
  • Composer: Matthieu Chabrol

In a nutshell

With Isabelle Huppert holding court and irresistibly dominating the proceedings, this is never really about the crimes she investigates - but it probably should have been, as the film, for all the quality of its performances, is a trial for the viewer.

by Anton Bitel

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