La Cérémonie folie à deux

I saw La Cérémonie when I lived in Chicago, right behind the Music Box Theatre. In the apartment where Window-Boy kept breaking into my house. A little alley across from that house led right to the front door of the movie theatre, so I would walk through the alley and go see stuff. (I had no consciousness of how lucky I was, or how singular this situation was.) I saw all kinds of things there for the first time, including Claude Chabrol’s La Cérémonie on its first run. I went alone and it was a rainy night. The movie unnerved me so much – unsettled me so deeply – I was scared to walk through the short dark little alley, an alley I knew by heart. I walked all the way around on the well-lit main streets, so a 30-second walk became a 10-minute walk in the rain. I was so freaked out by this damn thing and it still freaks me out.

It works in mysterious ways. Search and search for the moment everything “turns” and you won’t find it. I think it’s because the potential is there from the very first shot of the very first scene. Sandrine Bonnaire’s illiterate maid Sophie doesn’t turn into anything. She’s already there when she walks into the movie.

Nothing happens in the language. Or, almost nothing. It’s very sneaky, very tricky, it’s all inference and suggestion. On a certain level, the two women (Bonnaire and Isabelle Huppert) don’t need language. They never say to each other, “Okay so here’s what we’re gonna do.” They never commiserate. But … there’s something there underneath all the banter. A mischievous resentment towards those rich people. Nothing too heavy though. And so when the two women finally do take action, it almost seems like a lark at first. Like they’re just being mischievous. But … they’re not. It’s dead serious. And neither had to say a thing to the other.

Each woman clocked the other instantly, at first meeting, first eye-contact (above) as “Wow. You are like me.” And for women like this, it must be a rare occurrence to “recognize” themselves in another. Other people have warm family relationships, or they have a crowd of friends, they can flirt with the milkman, they are connected to humanity. To these two women, who have none of those things, all of that just seems weird. They don’t get along in the world. They’re both off-putting to others, but in different ways. The first moment they looked at each other, it’s like they had a sense. Or caught the SCENT. Like animals smelling each other on some supra-sensory level. Neither woman needs nudging or convincing. At all. It SEEMS like Huppert is the leader and instigator. But watch very very closely: She is not. They’re both already like that. Bonnaire and Huppert are so good at suggesting these undercurrents, without ever seeming to PLAY it. Both these women are missing something. In fact, they are missing THE thing. Fellow human feeling may be the best way to put it. And people like that – you could call them sociopaths – have a hard time in the world. They stand out. They have to camouflage their true natures. They’re not like other people.

La Cérémonie is one of my favorite movies dealing with the “folie à deux” relationship. The Leopold and Loeb type thing. Or Jean Genet’s The Maids. Or Heavenly Creatures or Badlands. I’d put Macbeth and Lady M on there too. Would Macbeth do what he did without his wife hissing insinuatingly in his ear, spurring him on to psychopathy, spurring him on past his limits?

I was just about to say that alone neither women in La Cérémonie would have done what they did, but that’s not true. Information is given, perhaps unreliable, about incidents in both their pasts. Horrifying incidents, never confirmed, but … you don’t need confirmation. Both are “on the run” – and this is another thing they clock about each other instantly without saying a word. It takes one to know one. Again: it’s rare that a human being is legit “on the run”. Not many people find themselves in such a circumstance. But these women do, and one glance at the other reveals the truth. Oh wow! You’re like me!

They don’t visibly or audibly make the decision to do what they do. They never say anything out loud, not even indirectly. Once they start “acting out” in that last scene, the event cannot be stopped. The women were marching towards it all along.

No way would I walk down that dark alley because I was afraid I might meet the two of them at the end of it.

Here’s an interesting video about Chabrol’s use of off-screen sound in La Cérémonie.

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2 Responses to La Cérémonie folie à deux

  1. Clary says:

    “And people like that – you could call them sociopaths – have a hard time in the world. They stand out. They have to camouflage their true natures. They’re not like other people.”
    They have a hard time in the world. Santa Madona, I never thought about that! So when two of them meet, and understand each other, anything can happen.

    • sheila says:

      Clary – exactly! In an early moment, Bonnaire mentions she’s heard the rumors about huppert. Huppert brushes it off. Then SHE says “aren’t you that girl people are looking for in the newspaper?” Nobody admits “yes” to either of these things. Instead, they both collapse on the bed, laughing hysterically. They know. They’re the same.

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