Bel Ami

Directed by: Declan Donnellan, Nick Ormerod

Written by: Guy de Maupassant (novel), Rachel Bennette (screenplay)

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Uma Thurman, Christina Ricci and Kristin Scott Thomas

George Duroy (Robert Pattinson) seduces and manipulates the city’s most influential and wealthy women – Clotilde de Marelle (Christina Ricci), Madeleine Forestier (Uma Thurman) and Virginie Walters (Kristin Scott Thomas) on his rise from peasantry to the ruling class in 1890s Paris.

Theatrical veterans and first time film directors Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod bring an authentic aesthetic to 1890s Paris. They contrast the dank and filthy spaces of George’s origins with the decadent surrounds of the Parisian High Society. They’re clearly relishing being able to immerse their audience into their performers space. At time the camera tracks through scenes with George’s perspective as the warm eyes of his female admirers objectify him.

The backdrop of high society and political intrigue becomes inconsequential in the pursuits of George. The means, the looking and being accepted by the wealthy are his most important goals. The director’s use recurring flash-backs to George’s squalor to show how ‘horrible’ his existence was prior to this pursuit; however, they don’t frighten/terrify enough to provide a concrete motivation for George’s consistent calculating pursuit. The sums of the parts of George’s character are comprehensible, but the trajectory is so erratic that you’re not sure about who he is during the transition of the story. I was very impressed with the ambiguous and fluctuating struggle for sexual power between George and his conquests but it became swamped but the narrative issues.

Even within the limitations of how the performance/narrative was compiled, Robert Pattinson’s performance was better than anything I’d seen him in. He was able to play a morally ugly, selfish and flawed character. The first soul searching moments alone in the beginning of the film show more gestural range than four Twilight films of brooding. Now I have to address what may make this film 100 million in its opening weekend, or at least double that on DVD and crisp Blu Ray: that’s right folks – this is Robert Pattinson’s first moonlight butt shot! I think I just sparkled all over myself. In any event what I’m trying to say is that Robert Pattinson out shines any of his Twi-hard performances.

The supporting performances from Thurman, Ricci, and Scott Thomas formed some brief highlights. Ricci’s love object Clotilde felt the least formed as a character; primarily there to play sex object. While Thurman’s Madeleine, the perennial ‘woman behind the man’ provided George with the advice that he used to navigate his way to the top.  Thurman’s performance is very good as she’s manipulating, wheeling and dealing but loses it’s punch as her character becomes vulnerable. Finally Scott Thomas’ infatuated Virginie, brings out the rage in George, before giving rise to several chuckles in the wake of his scheming.

Bel Ami is a patchwork that on close inspection reveals clunky segues, odd characterisations, disjointed character motivations and curious narrative pacing in its craftsmanship.