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Movie Review: Bel Ami (2012)

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Whose idea was it to cast Robert Pattinson as Georges Duroy in the upcoming adaptation of a Maupassant’s classic Bel Ami? I don’t know much about the actor, and I am not the kind of critic to garner unnecessary preconceptions and prejudices about a person just because he acted in a bunch of blockbuster vampire films (I am into zombies, sorry), but really: there was no one else in Hollywood to do this?

I will begin by saying that the set design, music, costumes and atmosphere are the best part of Bel Ami, which isn’t saying much, and isn’t incentive enough for buying a movie ticket, but still a pleasure to observe. It’s also nice to see, among the screams of how ‘morally bankrupt’ modern society is, that it wasn’t all that in the 19th century Paris either, even though the film is surprisingly tame, given its unbounded erotic possibilities and such a heartthrob at the center of it all.

But back to Robert Pattinson. Is it just me, or does his Georges Duroy look like he is going to throw up or have an orgasm or both – throughout the whole movie? I am fully aware I am risking my life writing this but there is no avoiding it: the dude looks likes he smells something funny, a crooked smirk never leaving his face, his eyes half-open, his brow covered in tiny dots of sweat, all the time – are all those signs of good acting these days? I don’t know.

Plot

Georges Duroy tries to make it in 1890 Paris, in depressing chambers crawling with cockroaches and failed dreams. A chance meeting with his former mate Charles (Philip Glenister) is an invitation to the bright big Paris of sophisticated ladies and important gentlemen. Georges looks in the mirror on his way to the game changing dinner and feels part of this society already (excellent positive thinking trick circa 19th century, thumbs up to Maupassant). That night he meets the three ladies he will hump eagerly: Madeleine (an elegant Uma Thurman), Clotilde (Christina Ricci in lovely, eyelash-battering mode) and Madame Walter (a heart-broken Kristin Scott Thomas) – his first career leap, considering his last bed mate was a loud prostitute wearing equally loud Matryoshka makeup. Georges, who has no talents, unless you count bed-hopping as one, quickly becomes a ‘prominent’ journalist, notorious for his controversial views, all thanks to his ghost-writer and secret mega mind Madeleine (does this situation sound familiar to anyone in the writing world circa 2012, wink wink?). Georges will stop at nothing to achieve his goals, and a terrifying close-up of his bloodless face at the end of the movie is a warning to all women, in Paris or elsewhere.

Lost Opportunities

The great opportunity to explore what it’s like to be a woman (then, as well as now), always in the shadow of the ‘stronger’ sex is wasted, together with a chance to draw parallels between ladder-climbing methods Georges uses and cheap modern claims to celebrity status. Erotic tensions are meagre (unless you are turned on by Pattinson’s expression of whiffing the scent of his own feet; that face is simply perfect, though, for the successful sequences in his derelict room, shaken with passing by trains and ridden with cockroaches, a symbol of utter despair and devastation that his pre-lady-killer life was), and that’s a real disappointment: it’s hard to make a film about sex not very sexy.

Being a film critic is more dangerous than most people think, especially for sensitive people like me who write unfavourably about Pattinson, who is not only protected by armies of blood-hungry teenage girls but is also a hard-to-resist keyword, very important for the search engines.

I am always trying to be impartial, research my subject well, and try myself at the skills film crews abound in (like adapting a detailed 420-page novel into a 102-minute film, working as a make-up artist, or practicing my acting skills – unlike many critics I do want to learn the medium, not just be an armchair critic farting my brains out into the sofa as if I own every secret in the game). I know how hard it is to shoot a movie (even a very bad one), and try to begin every review with a sense of awe and respect for every staff member who participated in the complicated process, the results of which are never predictable.

Therefore, i say ‘Bravo!’ to composers Lakshman Joseph De Saram and Rachel Portman (get a taste of the music in Bel Ami trailer), production designer Attila Kovacs, costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux and set decorator Anna Lynch-Robinson. Everyone else: it didn’t work this time. As Mr. Samuel Beckett puts it: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.’

Verdict: Just like it’s fun to watch how Georges Duroy became a sensation in 1890 Paris, it’s also amazing (and a little frightening) to see how Robert Pattinson managed to become one of the most sought-after actors in 2012. Go figure. But do it at home, unless you like Pattinson’s naked ass as big as it gets, namely the size of the whole screen.

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About Sviatlana Piatakova