Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Philippe (Benoît Magimel) & Senta (Laura Smet)
Photo: First Run Features

Rotten Tomatoes
Showtimes & Tickets
Enter Zip Code:

Directed by: Claude Chabrol.
Produced by: Antonio Passalia, Patrick Godeau & Alfred Hürmer.
Written by Pierre Leccia & Claude Chabrol, based on the novel by Ruth Rendell.
Director of Photography: Eduardo Serra.
Edited by: Monique Fardoulis.
Music by: Matthieu Chabrol.
Released by: First Run Features
Language: French with English Subtitles
Country of Origin: France. 110 Minutes. Not Rated.
With: Benoît Magimel, Laura Smet, Aurore Clément, Bernard Le Coq, Solène Bouton, Anna Mihalcea, Michel Duchaussoy & Suzanne Flon

Ominous opening music bleeds into the disquieting TV news story about a missing woman, an unsettling undertow for the subsequent awkward family moments: Staid and responsible Philippe (Benoît Magimel) comes home as usual to his mother Christine (Aurore Clément) and his sisters, including soon-to-be-married Sophie (Solène Bouton), as they wait for an introductory dinner with their mother’s new wealthy beau. Christine anxiously reassures her children that this will be different from her last heartbreaking relationship. But at the dinner, their too-hopeful mother blunders by inappropriately presenting the reluctant suitor with the sculpture from their garden of a goddess.

Later, after Sophie’s wedding and reception, Philippe offers a ride to the groom’s titular cousin, Laura Smet as the mysterious and smoldering Senta. Aloof, she doesn’t come with him at first, but shows up that night at his house drenched from walking in the rain; in no time at all, the couple ignites sparks from opposite ends of the screen. This dutiful son’s confidence soars in the unfolding sexually-charged relationship, but plummets after Senta startlingly demands that they prove their love for each other in a manner that is entirely unconventional, not to mention illegal.

The intense performance by hunky Magimel anchors and humanizes this chilling film. He demonstrated a captivating no-holds-barred sexiness in The Piano Teacher (La Pianiste), but here he also develops his character through body language and expressions that, with only minor changes in hair style and attire, cinematically replace the novel’s extensive interior monologues.

Two very contrasting scenes display Magimel’s range. Philippe tentatively enters what he thinks is his lover’s fantasy world by playfully describing a murder he pretends to have committed on her behalf. At the opposite emotional extreme, Philippe, just sitting on a park bench, sweats as he anxiously pieces together a shocking conclusion about his new lover.

Discomfiting parallels twin the ordinary with the off-kilter throughout. Philippe’s nervous mother checks up on him at work when he doesn’t return home upstairs; Senta lives downstairs from her oblivious, tango-dancing stepmother. He represents a renovation contractor while Senta’s isolated chateau is literally rotting. His job includes sweet-talking “lonely old women” who complain about his firm’s shoddy work, yet he quickly succumbs to Senta’s seduction. Christine twice says he looks like a god, and Senta looks eerily like the stone goddess in his mother’s garden that Philippe daringly steals back. Director/co-adapter Claude Chabrol visualizes a metaphor from Ruth Rendell’s dark mystery as Philippe creepily embraces the sculpture in his bedroom when he can’t be with Senta.

While the first half of the film slowly sets up the characters and relationships, the momentum builds until the strands rush together with a wallop in the last five minutes. However, Senta is just too crazy too soon, even if she works as an actress, and an emotional one at that. Philippe checks a few facts to reassure himself that her colorful stories have kernels of truth – her relatives shrug that she’s always been “weird.” But she is so volatile that Philippe seems more led by sex than by any shared commitment to her twisted philosophy of fated love and moral superiority. But it’s not unusual in such movies that femme fatales with beautiful bodies on full display overpower common sense, especially ones who shed dress on first meeting and perform oral sex during a business call. Nora Lee Mandel
August 4, 2006



Archive of Previous Reviews, 180 Thompson Street, New York, NY 10012 - Contact us