Film Review – Bel Ami

Bel Ami, which was released earlier this month, stars Robert Pattinson as Georges Duroy, a young poverty-stricken ex-soldier who rises to power through the seduction, manipulation and betrayal of a series of mistresses who are the city’s most wealthy and influential women. Guy de Maupassant’s French novel has been brought to the silver screen in an English language version that stays true to the original storyline thanks to the screenplay talents of Rachel Bennette. The film also stars Uma Thurman, Christina Ricci and Kristin Scott Thomas in supporting roles as the women Duroy ruthlessly uses to become one of the most powerful men in Parisian middle class society.

At the start of the film we see Duroy in his cockroach-infested room in Paris and it’s obvious he is down on his luck. While out drinking the beer that his few pennies can afford he bumps into Charles Forestier (Philip Glenister), a former comrade who now works for the newspaper La Vie Française. Charles invites him to dinner the following night. Feeling out of place and not even knowing which knife to use at dinner, Duroy can’t help but feel out of his depth. At the dinner, Duroy is introduced to Forestier’s beautiful and intelligent wife Madeleine (Uma Thurman) and the well-connected Virginie Walters (Kristin Scott Thomas) whose influence over her husband means that a good word from her is all one needs to be part of Parisian polite society.

But it is Clotilde de Marelle (Christina Ricci) who captures Duroy’s attention – a woman whose husband is often away and who confesses to Duroy over dinner that her only interest is pleasure and enjoyment. With his smouldering looks, Duroy captures the heart of Clotilde and they begin an illicit affair. For all her money and status, she loves him even though he has nothing.

"Virginie Walters", "Kristin Scott Thomas", "Madeleine Forestier", "Uma Thurman", "Clotilde de Marelle", "Christina Ricci"

Period costumes never looked so good!

After a long illness, Charles Forestier’s dies leaving Madeleine a rich widow and Duroy loses no time proposing. The marriage is an excellent move for Duroy but it loses him Clotilde, which the scheming social climber can’t understand… perhaps this man really doesn’t have a soul.

It is not a happy marriage and Duroy is filled with bitter jealousy towards Madeleine and wanting to get his own back on the newspaper men who constantly ridicule him, Duroy turns his attention to his boss’s wife Virginie Walters, even trying to seduce her in a church – the scene shows the audience just how low his morals are and emphasises his indecency and wickedness. Against all her Catholic morals, Virginie falls head over heels for Duroy. But when the time comes for Duroy to rid himself of this clingy lovesick woman, the scene is probably the only time I actually felt Pattinson portray the bitter cruelty of a man who cares for no-one but himself. Telling Virginie that she disgusts him as he drags her out literally clinging to his ankles is harsh… really harsh!

After seducing three of the most influential and wealthy women in Paris, the time has come for Duroy to climb even further up the social ladder to a height no-one would ever have expected him to reach. Who said crime (of the heart) never pays?

The role of a ruthless cad is a major departure for Robert Pattinson (and somewhat of a risk) after the adoration and fame he achieved playing the vampire heart-throb Edward in the Twilight Saga. Throughout Bel Ami, those same smouldering looks Pattinson perfected in the Twilight Saga come out to play and R-Patz once again captured the hearts of his mistresses and undoubtedly most of the female audience his dark brooding eyes.

"Bel Ami", "Robert Pattinson" "Georges Duroy"

Robert Pattinson and his brooding eyes

Yet all the brooding and smouldering looks can’t prevent Pattinson’s acting from being a somewhat weak attempt to portray the harsh cruelty of the character of Georges Duroy. I felt watching Pattinson on screen that he never consistently managed to capture the deviousness of Duroy’s character. I found it difficult to see why the women of Paris were falling at his feet. But maybe I’m missing something?!

The actresses on the other hand played their roles impeccably and by the end of the film I was certainly moved by the acting of the talented Kristin Scott-Thomas as Duroy’s broken-hearted lover, Virginie. Uma Thurman was perfectly cast as the strong-willed intelligent Madeleine and Christina Ricci’s portrayal of Duroy’s first conquest, Clotilde, was touching and totally believable.

As stories go, the rise of the anti-hero who blatantly uses and abuses the women in his life to get ahead is a refreshing change from the usual Hollywood sugar-coated happy endings that we’ve come to know and occasionally confess to love. The film may not win many awards but it was a perfectly harmless way to pass the time and I admit to getting lost in the visual splendour of this Parisian costume drama… that escapism feeling was made all the more real because I was treated to a very private viewing of Bel Ami… it was just me and my popcorn in Screen 5 of the Vue cinema in Cambridge!

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About Alan Philippe

Describing himself as an extraordinary guy doing ordinary things, Alan Philippe is the epitome of a people's person and it's no suprise that this perfect host is a typical ESFJ. Before starting his publishing career, Alan graduated with Joint Honours from University College London having read Physiology & Pharmacology. He worked for many years in Learning & Development, although his experience spans much more than this. Indeed, he was even once a recruitment consultant although Alan says he left the Dark Side relatively unscathed! Alan Philippe has a passion for fashion, interior design and all things vintage. When he's not busy in his role as Creative Editor of City Connect, you'll find him in either socialising in his favourite hotspots, getting a culture fix in the world of Art & Theatre, following the latest fashion and design trends or simply enjoying the best that life has to offer at home and abroad. Follow him on Twitter @A1Philippe
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