Based off the writings of French author Guy de Maupassant’s 1885 novel, Bel Ami is a licentious but sensual period piece directed by Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod.
Taking place in 19th century Paris, the story centers around one man’s resolve, climbing society’s political ranks through the enigmatic bedrooms of some very influential wives.
After spending many years of service in Algeria, Georges Duroy (Robert Pattinson) finds it difficult to acclimate financially in the ‘City of Lights’. A brief encounter with former comrade Charles Forestier (Philip Glenister) proves fruitful, as Duroy is offered a journalist position at a local paper. With the assistance of Forestier’s wife, Madeleine Forestier (Uma Thurman), who ghost writes his first article, Duroy begins his assent of lies and deceit. Working his way through the social circles of the more fortunate and most importantly, influential people of Paris, Duroy quickly learns that it is not the men of wealth that hold the power, but the women behind them. In a game of dangerous liaisons, he begins extramarital affairs with a friend of the Forestiers’, Clotilde de Marelle (Christina Ricci) whose absent husband makes her vulnerable to Duroy’s seductions along with Virginie Walter (Kristin Scott Thomas), wife to owner and chief editor of ‘La Vie Française’, Monsieur Walter, who simply falls prey to Duroy’s vengeance.
With beautiful settings and elaborate costumes, it is hard not to be consumed by the film’s glamorous depiction of Paris; the soft illuminated tones of light, quietly subduing its true intent of sex and deception. Yet beneath the umbrella of allure, is a story of a man with no likeable qualities to him, other than the fact that somewhere in his cold heart of treachery, there must be a hidden smidgeon of decency to understand the depths of his despair and despicableness. Arguably, his call to rise through the inner rankings of the elite is admirable, considering we had never seen such tenacity from a man’s point of view. But in his defense, the players to the game are all well aware of what roles they willingly participate in and no one character is sinless.
In addition, Pattinson’s performance is very good and brings a certain rawness to an otherwise, very detestable character. There are some very powerful scenes that really cause one to think of the symbolic meaning behind them. In one scene, Duroy is alone in his debilitated apartment, loathing in his own misery as a roach crawls by, we can only presume a likeness to his persona. In a more poignant scene, Mme Forestier gives into Duroy’s pleas to be intimate, but does so in a manner that echoes the loss of his masculinity, as she hovers above him while his face contorts in humiliation and shame.
Overall, I was sort of entranced by the methodical aspirations of Duroy as he blossomed into a complex sexual predator, and though I would not have imagined such a diverse cast of actresses to play his counterparts, found the chemistry between Duroy and his lovers, mesmerizing. ‘Bel Ami’ is a deliciously dark well told story with elaborate backgrounds, political games, and adulterous affairs that make the story enticingly intriguing. In the end, I think it is well worth the watch giving it four out of five stars for Pattinson’s portrayal of Duroy, alone.
‘Bel Ami’ premieres in selected theaters June 8th and is on VOD now.