Berlin 2012: ‘Bel Ami’ review


There are a mountain of problems with Declan Donnellan and Nick Omerod’s adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s novel Bel Ami, which stars Robert Pattinson, Uma Thurman, Christina Ricci and Kristin Scott Thomas. A combination of weak screenplay, dreadful direction and poor performances add up to what is undoubtedly one of the most disappointing films of this year’s Berlinale – you’ll laugh, but for all the wrong reasons.

Set in late 19th century Paris, the story pivots upon Georges Duroy (Pattinson), a French soldier recently returned from serving in Algeria who lives within his very meagre means in Paris, until one day he encounters an old comrade in arms who offers him a job at a newspaper. As Georges’ luck improves, he begins relations with the wives of some of the most influential men of Paris in order to improve his social and financial status, but soon realises that such a plan comes at a high price.

Essentially, Donnellan and Omerod’s Bel Ami (2012) has taken a story by an excellent French writer and turned it into a Mills & Boon farce, losing all the subtlety of the novel and replaced it with every possible cliché available to a costume drama. The performances are incredibly hammy; the worst culprit being Pattinson whose turn is not only weak, but incredibly irritating to boot.

The presence of Scott Thomas, who usually brings a certain gravitas to her roles, is unable to rescue the film as she too, along with Ricci, disappoints. Bizarrely, the entire cast adopt a series of ridiculous, upper-class English accents with the odd guttural, French-sounding name. Audiences may well be left aghast at why a predominantly American cast have been given such foolish and embarrassing direction.

Most irksome is the fact that the material for a great film is present, but the themes are never realised or (equally as bad) blatantly tossed in as an aside. One of Bel Ami most potentially interesting themes – that of sexual equality – is only hinted at, much like the themes of class division and the power of journalism over governments. Sadly, much of the film is instead given over to turning Pattinson into a Don Juan-esque ‘serial shagger’ rather than a vibrant, three dimensional lead.

Bel Ami is a rare film inasmuch as there is almost nothing to be enjoyed about it, save for the unintended humour that such an appalling effort can provoke in its audience – to be avoided at all costs.

For more Berlin Film Festival 2012 coverage, simply follow this link. 

Joe Walsh

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