Bel Ami (2012)

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Uma Thurman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Christina Ricci, Colm Meaney, Philip Glenister, Holliday Grainger, Natalia Tena, James Lance, Anthony Higgins.

Director: Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod
Rating: R (for some strong sexuality, nudity and brief language.)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Date: June 8, 2012
Home Video Release Date: August 7, 2012
North American Box Office: $120 Thousand

Red Wave, XIX Film, Protagonist Pictures, Rai Cinema, and Magnolia Pictures.

Written by: Rachel Bennette, based on the novel “Bel Ami” by Guy de Maupassant.
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★★ (out of 5 stars)

Bel Ami is yet another one of these turn-of-the-20th-century style erotically-tinged dramas which also attempts to make a political statement on classism, politics, and institutional misogyny along its journey.  The source material, an 1885 novel from Guy de Maupassant, has been adapted several times before, ranging from a 1939 feature film to a 1976 pornographic film to a 2011 London musical.  After seeing this latest re-fashioning of the story, it has rather hard for me to understand why people continue to return to this material again and again.  This Bel Ami is a rather pointless endeavor.  

Robert Pattinson stars as Georges Duroy, a former soldier who is completely broke.  In a state of sheer desperation, Duroy, by pure luck, stumbles upon a former acquaintance from his military days, Charles Forestier (Philip Glenister).  Now a newspaper editor, Forestier takes pity upon Duroy and gives him a job assisting his wife, Madeleine (Uma Thurman), in writing articles for a political newspaper he is now the editor of.  Duroy, it seems, has lots of love to give and is remarkably irresistible to virtually all the women he encounters.  Not only does Duroy eventually marry Madeleine, but he also makes a wealthy and tightly wound woman buckle at the knees (Kristin Scott Thomas), and wins the heart of the beautifully demure Clotilde (Christina Ricci).  As Duroy moves from one woman to the next and back again, he also plays his cards right financially, manipulating and conniving his way to riches beyond anything he has ever imagined.

Not having ever read the de Maupassant novel, Bel Ami feels false and unnecessary in this day and age.  When Pattinson’s Duroy becomes furious at getting played emotionally by Thurman’s Madeleine, he is crude and cruel to her; exhibiting traits of misogyny that immediately distance any connection you feel for his character.  In fact, most, if not all of these characters are deplorable, selfish at times.  Trying to watch miserable people treat each other miserably in 1890s Paris, with wooden dialogue, a pained and overreaching performance by Pattinson, and a directorial approach that seems unoriginal and lifted point-by-point from a British-period-piece movie guide, wears on you rather quickly.

With a cast featuring Uma Thurman, Pattinson, and Kristin Scott Thomas, I will say that it is a nice surprise that Christina Ricci stands out here.  Ricci is the only character I truly cared about, as she falls genuinely in love with Georges and yet recognizes her role as the mistress he will always fancy for a shag, and likewise return back to when things get tough for him.  Thurman is fine as a politically driven and uncompromising female character who Duroy ends up with.  However, Kristin Scott Thomas underwhelms as a ravenous, bottled up wife who pushes Duroy to a place of vile nastiness and condemnation.

Bel Ami looks beautiful and some of the scenes work well with Pattinson and Ricci and Pattinson and Thurman, but the drab and predictable screenplay by Rachel Bennette leaves there next to nothing at all to take away from the production.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that Bel Ami does rather gleefully remind us of a few supposed absolutes from this era.  Misogyny and hypocrisy ruled the day, people were morally challenged, and the women were essentially there to conceive children, pleasure men, and properly represent the aristocratic bourgeoisie lifestyle.  If they even tried to have a voice or emulate actions of the men in and around their lives, they were shunned, demeaned, and made subservient.

Great.  Good to know.  And I ask why has this thing been revisited so many times over and over again?  Maybe the answer is far too obvious and I would just as soon not consider that the social morays present here still exist in the entertainment industry.  But I digress…

SHOULD I SEE IT?
YES
  • Those familiar with the source material might be intrigued.
  • Yes Twi-hards and Team Edward members, Robert Pattinson has a nude love scene.  There.  You’re welcome.
  • Fans of films depicting this time period and era might be drawn to take a look.
NO
  • I am still waiting for Robert Pattinson to show me he can lead a movie.  He is overreaching with his mannerisms, expressions, and one scene with his anger, a shoe, and a cockroach is laugh-out-loud bad.  Bel Ami feels too much for him.
  • Despite a beautiful presentation, there is nothing new and exciting about this.  Acknowledging the period and social morays of the time period, Bel Ami feels out of touch and unnecessary in this day and age.  I am kind of baffled as to why this was greenlighted in the first place.