Wednesday, October 7, 2020 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm


Laughing in the Face of Death: The Comedic Force of Isabelle Huppert in La Cérémonie (Claude Chabrol, 1995)

Sometimes described as Claude Chabrol’s greatest film, La Cérémonie is a film adaptation of Ruth Rendell’s 1977 novel, A Judgement in Stone, already adapted for the screen in 1986 by the Iraqi filmmaker Ousama Rawi as The Housekeeper. Chabrol shifts Rendell’s setting from the United Kingdom to the French region around Saint-Malo in Brittany, and in this version, the story depicts the relationship between Jeanne (Isabelle Huppert), a playful and defiant postal worker, and Sophie (or “la bonne”) (Sandrine Bonnaire), who is hired by Cathérine Lelievre (Jacqueline Bisset) to work as a maid for her family, which includes George Lelievre (Jean-Pierre Cassel), George’s daughter Melinda (Virginie Ladoyen), and Cathérine’s son, Gilles (Valentin Merlet). Sophie hides the secret that she is illiterate, and Sophie and Jeanne’s closeness in part derives from the fact that they have both been suspected—but without proof—of murdering a relative (Sophie, her father, and Jeanne, her four-year-old daughter). George dislikes Jeanne and suspects her of reading his mail, and so forbids her to enter their home to visit Sophie. After he fires Sophie, ostensibly for blackmailing Melinda when Sophie learns Melinda is pregnant, but perhaps actually for her disobedience with regard to Jeanne’s visits to the home, the two friends ultimately execute the family with shotguns as they watch a performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni televised live from the Salzburg Festival in an unplanned eruption of brutal violence that is disturbingly funny. Critics have largely overlooked the uncomfortable humor of this film, and of Huppert's performance in particular. This talk considers how a focus on Huppert's comedy generates some critical resistance to the way the film has been understood to date. This is a work in progress toward an essay that will be contributed to Iggy Cortez and Ian Fleishman, eds., Negative Affect in the Work of Isabelle Huppert: Expressive Blankness (under contract with Edinburgh UP)! 

Click HERE for the Zoom link.