On screen, Senta is dramatically altered by the casting of Laura Smet. The twenty-one-year-old daughter of
, she’s dark, exotic and zaftig. Introduced at Sophie’s wedding, Smet’s fully rounded curves barely fit into the gown. The antithesis of the image-conscious European bourgeoisie, the actress’s wide face and physique may be unlike the other women in his films, but the character’s lofty detachment, self-centeredness, and controlling nature are vintage Chabrol.
She’s a distant cousin of Jacqueline Sassard’s ethereal revolutionary in Chabrol’s Les Biches
(1968), the blank-eyed street artist (named ‘Why’) who psychologically and physically consumes her rich prey, played by Stéphane Audran. The correlation of sex, domination, death and politics is a common and methodically woven thread in Chabrol, whose nihilism—like that of Patricia Highsmith, an obvious influence—is rarely trumpeted nor clearly defined. As the family of The Bridesmaid
implodes from banality, it scarcely registers to the eye and mind; when Philippe descends the stairs to Senta’s musty lair, we see the dirt on the walls before comprehending his loss of innocence.
It’s the heart of darkness, the pit from which misdeeds (and Chabrol) spring forth. Vindictive, aloof, desensitized, Senta is the embodiment of society’s ills, the cancer eating away at its purity and well being. Emblematic of the minions aching for recognition and respect from the bored and moneyed elite—Nietzsche’s master-slave morality—she thrives in violent fantasy, believing her scheme of random murder to be “a gesture that places us above ordinary people.” Echoes of Hitchcock and Highsmith abound, but while the dapper madmen of Rope
(1948) and Strangers on a Train
(1951) are her ancestors, Senta’s inherited none of their swagger, wit or élan. A blunt presence lacking humor, allure, seduction or foreplay, she reflects self-absorption and an absolute dismissal of grace and empathy.
Whether The Bridesmaid
is a ‘good’ picture or not seems irrelevant. Its director has enjoyed three periods of outstanding achievement: the late 1950s and early 60s innovations in theme, character and technique; a startling advance in political ideals during the late 1960s and early 70s; and mature, intellectually elevated work beginning in the 1990s with (happily) no end in sight. For more than a decade now, Chabrol has shaped and molded arguments about politics, society and human nature to fine detail. Not simply a good film, The Bridesmaid
approaches these timeless arguments once again, inviting us to consider aspects of who and what we are, and the forces that influence us. Which makes it something, very gently, beyond good.