Merci pour le chocolat (2000, Claude Chabrol)

After playing the hellraiser in Le Ceremonie, Isabelle Huppert is back to being classy and restrained in this one. She’s the first and third wife of pianist André Polonski – he had a son by his second wife, who died in a car crash. In another part of town, Jeanne (Anna Mouglalis: Coco Chanel in the Jan Kounen film) learns from her mother that she was nearly switched at birth with Polonski’s son Guillaume. Since Jeanne is an aspiring pianist and looks up to Polonski, she takes this as a sign and visits his house, where he offers to give her private lessons.

Huppert and Dutronc:

It’s gradually revealed that icy Huppert, who runs a chocolate company, puts sedatives in the family’s chocolate every night, and drugged Guillaume’s mom the night of her car accident years ago. Jeanne drives off to the store at night with Guillaume in the car, knowing very well that she’s been drugged. Why does she do this, other than to offer us a climactic suspense scene? Huppert ends up like Sandrine Bonnaire in Le Ceremonie and Jean-Pierre Cassel in La Rupture: caught red-handed as the credits roll.

Mouglalis and Pauly, born on the same day:

All sorts of parallels and doubles – each kid is missing a parent, they were (nearly?) switched at birth, Huppert and Polonski were married twice, Jeanne dresses up as Guillaume’s mother – I’m not sure what it all adds up to, but it kept the movie from feeling thin even though very little happens, plot-wise, over 100 minutes. Guillaume is Rodolphe Pauly, who played the soldier who dies and swaps identities with Audrey Tautou’s beloved in A Very Long Engagement, and sharp-featured Jacques Dutronc was Pialat’s Van Gogh, also costarred with Huppert twenty years earlier in Godard’s Sauve qui peut (la vie).

Chabrol:
“Perversity guides its adept (or its victim) to a form of relative solopsism that leads us to provide other examples of relative solopsism; that of the musician, for instance, with infinitely more benign consequences that are nonetheless real. We have tried to illustrate this idea by the slow dissolution of the most definite certainties of our society – here, filial descent, and so the family. The main aim is to get across the idea that all certainties melt away as the story progresses.”

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