Philippe Tardieu (Benoît Magimel) lives in a small French city with his mother, Christine (Aurore Clément), and younger sisters, Sophie (Solène Bouton) and Patricia (Anna Mihalcea). He’s begun a promising career as a contractor and frequently offers support and advice to his family.
As the film opens, the family is in a period of transition: Sophie is engaged and Christine is dating Gérard Courtois (Bernard Le Coq), a recently divorced businessman. Eager to make a good impression, Christine invites her children to dinner at Gérard’s home and gives him an unusual present from the family’s garden – a bust of the Roman goddess Flora. The dinner goes well, but Gérard abruptly moves away, leaving behind the statue and a heartbroken Christine. Shortly after Gérard’s departure, Philippe, who never wanted to part with the statue, returns to his house to retrieve Flora.
At Sophie’s wedding, Philippe meets bridesmaid Stéphanie “Senta” Bellange (Laura Smet). Although they exchange little more than pleasantries during the ceremony, Senta follows Philippe home, where she declares her love for him and tells him that he’s her destiny. Beguiled by her intensity and her uncanny resemblance to Flora, Philippe begins an intense and passionate affair with the mysterious Senta.
In the days that follow, Philippe gets an intriguing, and occasionally unsettling, glimpse into his new girlfriend’s eccentric world. She claims to be a theatrically trained actress who’s worked in film, but Philippe is unable find a single play on her bookshelf. Her family owns an elegant mansion yet she prefers to live in the basement. She lavishes him with love and attention but she’s possessive and has a quick temper.
Senta also has a macabre fascination with death; as their relationship deepens, she suggests that they prove their love by killing a stranger. Philippe is initially horrified at the request and believes she would never actually kill someone to prove her love for him. Nevertheless, he brings her a newspaper article about an unsolved murder and tells her he’s the killer, hoping this will satisfy her. When Senta follows with a detailed account of a murder she’s committed, Philippe begins to wonder if his girlfriend is simply acting out a morbid fantasy or if she’s really a killer.
In The Bridesmaid, Phillipe and Senta’s desires and the compulsions that drive them are key elements of the plot and Chabrol teases them out slowly and methodically. The film moves at a deliberately unhurried pace, with much of the action taking place off-screen. This is a clever way of highlighting the ambiguous nature of Senta and her possible crimes; she’s eccentric and tells Philippe a number of outrageous stories, but is she a cold-blooded killer? The leads are well-cast. Benoît Magimel brings charm and sincerity to the role of Philippe while Laura Smet’s cool intensity hints at the darkness that lies underneath Senta’s declarations of love for Philippe.
The Bridesmaid was Chabrol’s second film version of a Rendell novel. In 1995, he released La Cérémonie, a chilling adaptation of her mystery A Judgment in Stone (1977). Although The Bridesmaid is a bit more understated than La Cérémonie, it is an equally effective adaptation of Rendell’s work.
The Bridesmaid is in French with English subtitles.
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