A Comedy Of Power

A Comedy Of Power


Reviewed by: Paul Griffiths

A Comedy of Power is ostensibly inspired by the real life political and business scandal, The ELF Affair, which recently rocked France. Several high level politicians were implicated in an investigation into charges of embezzlement and dodgy business dealings between a major oil company and some African states. The ramifications were far and wide.

So, here we have Isabelle Huppert's Jeanne Charmant-Killman, an investigating magistrate, delving fearlessly into a remarkably similar high-level boys' own club of bureaucratic miss-dealings, corruption, smoke and mirrors. The names have been changed to protect the innocent, as they say. Indeed, as it says at the beginning: "Any similarity with any real person or event would be, as it is said, fortuitousness".

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Although it may sound a little dry, this is anything but. Chabrol wisely chooses to focus in the main not on the wider implications of the case, but rather on how it affects Jeanne as she steadfastly ploughs through it. She is an intelligent, independent, ambitious and morally righteous professional. Renowned for her relentless pursuits, she is unflatteringly nicknamed The Piranha. Yes, she's got a terrific bite and she won't let go when she's onto something, but she is unremittingly motivated by her sense of justice. Soon the case has her working long hours, regularly getting up throughout the night - regardless of the intimidations and physical threats to her life she then incurs.

Whilst Jeanne tries to remain unflappable at work, Chabrol deftly defines how difficult an authoritative role can be for woman in a massively patriarchal environment. The importance of womanly bonding and support is highlighted, much to the chagrin of Jeanne's enemies. Similarly, Chabrol credibly defines the toll the work takes on Jeanne's domestic and private life. Her obsession with the case is clouding her to her depressed husband's jealousy and loneliness. Or is it? Perhaps she is aware but she can't, shouldn't have to be responsible for fixing everything all the time. He actually gives her no support at all.

It is a sign of Chabrol's skill as director and scribe that these themes never need to be explicitly stated, argued or shouted. They are simply, powerfully felt and understood. In portraying mundane events, the rituals of normal behaviour, the trials of life, the familiar humanity of Jeanne and her relationships is expertly expressed. You feel for Jeanne and experience her tension and fatigue, her loneliness and her spirit tremendously.

Key to this is Huppert's superlative, eminently watchable central performance. Rarely away from the screen for long, she completely owns it when there, creating an admirable, at times flawed and multi-layered character with brittle strength and credible resolve. Awards of some note must follow.

There are moments of delightful, intelligent comedy to be had in Jeanne's run-ins with the various slimy, panic-stricken or bluffing top-end businessmen she hauls into her various offices or surprises with her sudden raids. Each quality male actor does his best to hold his own. There's also sound support from Thomas Chabrol (Claude's son) as Jeanne's nephew Felix - support in the encouragement and confidence Felix gives Jeanne and support as his solid turn gives Huppert a smooth foil to bristle sensitively against.

Beyond this Chabrol holds up an unattractive portrait of modern business dealings that may give some similar evocations to Syriana. You don't need to 'get' all the business skulduggery's intricacies, but you can certainly understand what's going on. People of position acting in self-serving manner, cocooned from the law, manipulating events with no regard for the wider population, with which their privileged lifestyles long since stopped mingling.

Couching all this is Chabrol's realistic direction, expertly and unobtrusively framing Huppert and others with an understated skill and lightness of touch. It all makes for a polished, satisfyingly involving whole that avoids any mainstream trappings and credits the audience with intelligence and maturity.

Reviewed on: 24 Oct 2006
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Investigating fraud amongst France's fattest fat cats.

Read more A Comedy Of Power reviews:

Angus Wolfe Murray ***1/2

Director: Claude Chabrol

Writer: Odile Barski, Claude Chabrol

Starring: Isabelle Huppert, François Berléand, Patrick Bruel, Marilyne Canto, Robin Renucci, Thomas Chabrol, Jean-François Balmer, Pierre Vernier, Jacques Boudet, Philippe Duclos, Roger Dumas

Year: 2006

Runtime: 110 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Germany/France

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