The Chabrol tribunal
A COMEDY OF POWER/ L’IVRESSE DU POUVOIR
Directed by Claude Chabrol. Starring Isabelle Huppert, François Berléand, Patrick Bruel, Robin Renucci, Maryline Canto Club, IFI, Dublin, 110 min
THE scenario follows an official investigation into businessmen and politicians charged with abusing public funds on a grand scale, and it involves offshore accounts, money laundering and an envelope containing close to a million dollars. The powerful men questioned about these allegations respond with evasive answers, double talk and claims of memory loss.
The setting is Paris, and although prefaced with the standard disclaimer, the screenplay was inspired by a fraud scandal involving a French oil company and the official inquiry undertaken by a magistrate. Given Claude Chabrol’s preoccupation with exploring the darker side of the bourgeoisie, his attraction to the story must have been irresistible.
First screened at the Berlin festival two years ago this month, the film arrives here on the 50th anniversary of Chabrol’s directing debut with Le Beau Serge. Contrary to its English- language title, A Comedy of Power is firmly serious in tone and intent. It would have been more accurate to use the literal translation of the original title – The Intoxication of Power.
That intoxication is shared by the wealthy men reluctantly submitting to the investigation, and by the determined judge on the case, who is known in courtroom circles as “the piranha”. Isabelle Huppert, in her seventh film for Chabrol, plays the magistrate as a pallid workaholic. Even though her life is threatened and her marriage is strained as she doggedly seeks out the truth, she immerses herself in her task with zeal, taking undisguised pleasure from humiliating corrupt suspects forced out of their comfortable milieu of imbibing Taittinger champagne and smoking large cigars.
Chabrol evidently shares the judge’s satisfaction, viewing them with astringent cynicism. His untypically slow-burning drama is conspicuously short on narrative tension, and certainly not as tightly wound as his finest thrillers. But it is engrossing nonetheless, benefiting from a strong cast and the sting in its tale.
Tell it to the judge: Isabelle Huppert with Patrick Bruel