Inspired by the notorious 1906 murder of prominent New York architect Stanford White by the mentally unstable socialite who married White's former mistress, showgirl Evelyn Nesbit, veteran filmmaker Claude Chabrol's icy tale of love, lust and self-delusion is an elegant exercise in corrosive psychological suspense.
Lyonnais TV weather girl Gabrielle Leneige (Ludivine Sagnier), whose single mother, Marie (Marie Bunel), owns a local bookstore, hungers for better things and affects a sophisticated veneer that belies an emotional vulnerability of which she herself is dangerously unaware. A chance meeting at the station with literary lion Charles Saint-Denis (Francois Berleand) sparks a passionate affair, but while Gabrielle deludes herself that Charles will one day leave Dona (Valeria Cavalli), his wife of 25 years, he intends no such thing. Saint-Denis, a notorious voluptuary, has dallied with ripe young things all his life and believes he's always made his loyalties and intentions clear; he delights in Gabrielle's firm flesh and relative inexperience, but their erotic adventures will never undermine his loyalty to Dona and his longtime publisher, Capuchine (Mathilda May), whose carnal appetites are at least the e qual of his own. Meanwhile, unstable rich boy Paul Gaudens (Benoit Magimel), who nurses an inchoate grudge against Saint-Denis and whose mother, well-born pharmaceutical heiress Genevieve (Caroline Silhol), has devoted her life to covering up evidence of her son's sociopathic tendencies, decides he's passionately in love with Gabrielle. Gabrielle rejects Paul's alarmingly intense advances until Charles cuts her loose, at which point she agrees to marry him, much to the dismay of the status-conscious Genevieve. That the situation will end in tears is a given; the only question is precisely how and when.
Often called the French Hitchcock, Chabrol is less a master of the macabre than a dark angel of the death foretold. His updating of the fin de siecle White/Nesbit/Harry K. Thaw scandal immortalized in E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime, co-written with stepdaughter and longtime assistant director Cecile Maistre, is a dry, thoroughly modern reminder that while mores change, human nature doesn't. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh