Miláčik – Bel Ami
My son's words, but his opinion about the film and mine: we have equal opinions.
I remember it was more than two years ago that word had reached into my ears that the novel of Guy de Maupassant titled 'Bel Ami' was about to be adapted on screen. The cast was already fabulous: the leading role of Georges Duroy was given to Robert Pattinson, the young actor trying to squeeze himself out of the stereotype of being a teenage idol. The list of leading actresses at the same level of importance (or even more important) included Uma Thurman, Christina Ricci and Kristin Scott Thomas. The film already had a Hungarian relation, as the Paris street scenes were shot on the streets of the more cost effective Budapest and even the French Riviera is substituted by the Tihany peninsula on lake Balaton. (With the southern shore removed on post-production, as the viaduct of the motorway would show weird.)
Somehow the distributor had not found it important to bring 'Bel Ami' to the cinemas in Hungary, but after all, I don't care. Still, the cinema in the not too distant Štúrovo, Slovakia had the film on its programme. I joined my family on the trip, to watch the film in English, with Czech subtitles (really Czech, with the letter ů in the text). There were five more people present in the comfortable, air conditioned place, which had the ability of 3D-screening and 7.1 Dolby Digital sound. Not bad for the cinema of a small town with ten and some thousand inhabitants, compared to similar facilities in the region. Before taking wide consequences from the low number of viewers, I'd make the remark that the next film on the programme did not attract more of them. So, let the curtain roll.
Just a few lines on the story if someone would not find it familiar: the (anti)hero of the story set in the year of 1890 is the hardly literate Georges Duroy, who lives in a battered tenement in Paris and works as a railway cashier – and he becomes a social climber, making his fortune mostly by sleeping with wives of powerful men. Meanwhile he is unable to write a single sentence on his own, but he is indeed able to look charming and do things needed to win the hearts of neglected women. I think I don't rush too ahead when I say that by the end of the film, the high society life sits well with Duroy. Very well.
Is the story familiar? Several critics find paralel syndromes when looking at the life of Duroy and looking at the carreers of short-time stars of the present days. This might be a real analogy, but there are differences: Duroy of the film does not think of himself as a talented man. He does not even act consciously, he is a man of his instincts, and he is getting shown a few possibilities, which he uses according to his own talent. (i.e. sleeps with more women) The person showing these possibilities is Clotilde (played by Christina Ricci), who ends up being given a couple of verbal slaps, given by the very man she loves.
Let's now leave the storyline – if interested, the book is present in the libraries or one can travel to a country where it is still/already in the theatres. Or one can wait the release of the DVD. (And then order it from another country...)
Take now a look at the actors. I admit that I'm not one of the screaming Pattinson-fans, and there is no way that I'd start screaming if I saw him walking in the streets of this place. Yet he was a positive surprise to me: looked with an empty face when he had to use an empty face and looked angry when he had to look angry. Duroy is such a character, an empty, shallow beast, who gets angry easily. Hands up if you don't know such a person and smile, because you're lucky. Listing the three leading actresses: there is Uma Thurman as the injured, intelligent but sometimes ebulient Madeleine. We've got Christina Ricci, charming, a little silly as Clotilde, who loves Georges almost unconditionally – it's easy to believe that she's the poor good girl used up by the evil Georges. Kristin Scott Thomas is great at playing the elegant lady neglected by her husband. Philip Glenister plays the arrogant, rich editor, Charles Forestier brilliantly. Looking at the job done by the actors, I don't find anything disputable.
Taking a look at the directing of the film. Some changes between the scenes are slow and forced at the first sight, but this is not Avatar, and remember, we're not watching a videoclip but a period novel adaptation. We get a large amount of close-ups, I found this a bit unnecessary and boring, whoever was the subject of the actual close-up. It was odd to me that Pattinson was tried to be made look older by leaving this partly unshaven stlye. First of all, it didn't succeed, secondly, in a period when guys had the possibility to join the army at the age of 18 (or under), being a retired solider at the age of twenty-some is not very surprising. This unshaven style simply doesn't work – a moustache, a beard, or nothing. But this really is bagatelle.
The music was all right, the sound was fine. I've already wrote on the location, it was funny to recognise some of the buildings. Or even the interior of the tenement of Duroy, you've seen one, you've seen them all: some buildings in the inner city still can be sold as 100 years old, almost without modifications.
As a summary: 'Bel Ami' was a pleasant film to me, interesting, sometimes even exciting.