Monday, February 19, 2007

A Comedy of Power (Chabrol, 2006)

Claude Chabrol’s A Comedy of Power is perhaps the worst kind of bad movie. There are films that are woefully incompetent, films that are utterly laughable and yet beyond the surface you can usually see that someone cared deeply about the project. A Comedy of Power is not that kind of film. Although it contains solid acting and production values, A Comedy of Power is a film that is impossible to imagine anyone involved feeling passionately about. At least when Baz Luhrmann or Mel Gibson embarrass themselves with their latest myopic vision, you can tell that they poured their hearts into the project. By contrast, Chabrol’s film is utterly devoid of ambition, personal style, artistry, and, despite what the title promises, comedy. Most astonishing of all, Chabrol has managed to turn out this turkey with none other than Isabelle Huppert playing his lead. Huppert is Jeanne Charmant-Killman (Get it? Kill Man!), a high-powered prosecutor who is examining generic greedy businessmen who run a generic company and have been accused of generic corporate crimes. When these men get together, you can just tell they have it coming because they’re always smoking cigars. And they’re so smug about it too.

Huppert’s character is nicknamed ‘The Piranha’, presumably due to her ferocity, tenacity and tiny size. If, like me, you are drawn to the film thinking that the idea of Huppert engaged in a high stakes power struggle, spewing acid and taking names, is your idea of a fun time at the movies, be warned. From start to finish, Chabrol’s characters are exactly what they appear to be on the surface. There is no joy in watching Huppert nail the naughty executives because they never pose much of a threat. Huppert is so utterly composed and under control in every situation that it is hard to imagine that she has even broken a sweat. As for the supposed comedy, Chabrol’s script misses even the most obvious of jokes. For example, on a raid of a corporate office, Jeanne seizes an executive’s computer. Initially, he vehemently protests. Later, he claims that the only thing he uses the computer for is to calculate his golf handicap. Jeanne’s response: “How is it?” If Jeanne had made some remark noting that he must be extremely embarrassed about his score if he wanted so desperately to keep it secret, then Chabrol might have elicited some laughter.

Such laughs, unfortunately, are not to be found. Nor is any sort of insight or dramatic tension. Chabrol never earns our investment because he never offers his protagonist a worthy challenge. Instead we get a series of events that is like a shadow version of what might have been an actual film: empty, soulless, insignificant.



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