The Chabrol tri­bunal


The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film Reviews - MICHAEL DWYER

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

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