Bel Ami (2012)

Synopsis: Based on Guy de Maupassant’s classic novel, this tale of temptation and obsession chronicles Georges Duroy’s (Robert Pattinson) rise to power from his meager beginnings as a penniless ex-soldier by using the city’s most influential and wealthy women. Set in turn of the century Paris, Duroy seduces Madame de Marelle (Christina Ricci) then marries Madeleine Forestier (Uma Thurman), a former comrade’s wife. Fueled by his insatiable quest and lustful greed, Duroy conquers Madame Walter (Kristen Scott Thomas), only to learn that every conquest is marred by betrayal and that true love eludes him.

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Bel Ami (2012) 7.0

eyelights: Christina Ricci. Robert Pattinson. its production.
eyesores: Uma Thurman. Robert Pattinson. its superficial script.

“It’s not enough to be loved, not even by you.”

‘Bel Ami’ is a 1885 novel by Guy de Maupassant. A classic, it has been adapted for the big and small screen, as well as the stage, many times over. In 2012, Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod directed Robert Pattinson, Christina Ricci, Uma Thurman and Kristin Scott Thomas in yet another version.

Set in 1890, it follows the romantic travails of Georges Duroy, a former soldier who has come to Paris to make his fortune. While in a cabaret, he bumps into an old Army buddy who has since become incredibly wealthy and helps him get a head start. But Georges has great ambitions; he wants much more.

It just might involve his buddy’s spouse.

And her friends.

‘Bel Ami’ is a picture that wants to be devilish, to be sexy, to have bite. It falls in the same category as ‘Dangerous Liaisons‘ except that it doesn’t delineate the characters’ motivation clearly enough for us to gleefully follow along. It also doesn’t dish out the performances needed to give it edge.

I’m not saying the actors weren’t good. Hardly. What I mean is that this kind of film required greater focus and intensity from its players. Think of John Malkovich and Glenn Close in ‘Dangerous Liaisons’: the picture rode on their coattails, really; it would have been a shadow of itself with anyone else.

Robert Pattinson is actually pretty decent as Georges, emanating the perfect amount of slyness, but he’s no John Malkovich. And Christina Ricci is absolutely lovely as Clotilde, one of his lovers; she’s the star of the show. But they’re not enough to carry the whole picture; they don’t leap off the screen.

Sadly, Kristin Scott Thomas, who can usually be counted on, seems uninvested in her character, Virginie, the spouse of George’s boss, and another of his conquests. Even after using her and then ditching her, which should have been a devastating blow, we don’t feel much coming from either of them.

And the nearly-unrecognizable Uma Thurman turns in another unconvincing performance – which is maddening since she’s now been in the business for nearly three decades. At least she had an excuse for being amateurish in ‘Dangerous Liaisons’. It’s unfortunate, because her character is pretty complex.

Oh, and yes, she’s another of Georges’ conquests.

Though Pattinson’s turn suggests that Georges is manipulative, even clever, there’s nothing that explains his powers of seduction. Why are all these women even remotely interesting in him, let alone casting everything to the four winds for him? Is it because he starred in ‘Twilight‘? We may never know.

The problem may be that this is Donnellan and Ormerod’s debut feature film, as is the case for screenwriter Rachel Bennette. Perhaps they lost something in the adaptation, or didn’t know how to transition from stage to screen. Either way, the performances and material are unusually unaffecting.

It can also be a bit confusing. For instance, the opening scene, which finds George living in squalour, in the dark, filled with regret, suggests that the rest of the picture is being told in flashback and that we’ll see how he ends up there. But it’s not at all the case: it’s just a meaningless introduction.

It could have been excised, to no effect.

Seriously, I have no doubt that the source material is stronger than this; it wouldn’t have been adapted as frequently as it has been otherwise. But this version, though largely entertaining, is fairly tepid. If not for its roots, it would likely just be ignored and relegated to the dustbins of history.

I’ll stick with ‘Dangerous Liaisons’, thank you very much.

Story: 6.75
Acting: 7.0
Production: 7.5

Nudity: 2.0
Sexiness: 2.0
Explicitness: 2.5

Date of viewing: July 28, 2017

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