Sunday, April 30, 2017

OPHELIA: a little-seen Claude Chabrol "take" on Hamlet hits Blu-ray/DVD via Olive Films

Who'd have imagined that TrustMovies would be covering, on subsequent days, films by two noted French filmmakers with highly misanthropic views of the world -- one with little talent (see yesterday's post on Bruno Dumont), the other a master of the movies, Claude Chabrol, who managed to smartly link France's "New Wave" to its more "establishment" cinematic past.

One of Chabrol's (the late filmmaker is shown at left) earlier movies -- his ninth of some 60 made over a period of 51 years, plus another dozen films or series episodes made for television -- OPHELIA, as you might quickly guess, is this fellow's updated "take" on Shakespeare's Hamlet, viewed as, among other things, class warfare. Chabrol always had it in for the haute bourgeoisie, but neither did he view the working class with any kind of confidence or love.

This political overlay, in any case, is mostly skin deep, as the director/co-writer is much more interested in doing riffs on the original, which anyone who knows the play should find surprisingly amusing and often quite smart.

These includes that gravedigger scene, a bit of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, an Horatio-like best friend, the play-within-a-play (this time a film-within-a-film) and lots more.

The title character -- played by the lovely Juliette Mayniel (at right) -- is actually named Lucy and hates being referred to as Ophelia, and our Gertrude and Claudius characters (here known as Claudia and Adrien) are given proper depth and charisma by Alida Valli (below, left) and Claude Cerval (below, center).

But it is the Hamlet character, Yvan, that gives the film its most bizarre kick. As played by an actor I've never noted previously, though he played smaller roles in four other Chabrol movies, André Jocelyn (shown above, right, and below, left), was sometimes also known as André Josselin. Ophelia marked his rise to a "starring" role, yet it also marked the end of his career. I am not aware of what kind of reviews this actor received critically in France and elsewhere, but I suspect that they were perhaps unkind, for M. Jocelyn turns his Hamlet character into a twit who soon morphs into full-out twat.

I cannot help but also think that this is exactly what Chabrol wanted (his movie is full of dark, subtle humor, to which Joslyn's performance richly contributes), since this filmmaker was never one to beat around the bush as to what he was doing. The character of Shakespeare's Hamlet is already so full of indecisiveness that tweaking it a bit further just adds to the bizarre fun. And M. Joslyn is nothing if not steadfast, making his Yvan more and more annoying as the movie moves along.

The "mousetrap" film-within-the-film is Ophelia's high point, done as a silent movie that makes its premiere audience (all save the Gertrude and Claudius characters) laugh delightedly. Being French, of course, the film is full of ersatz philosophy and poetry, as well as labor unrest. And, yes -- this, too, adds to the humor on hand. Chabrol also has his very own ending in mind -- which is full of surprises, small and large. While not among the filmmaker's most memorable works, this is still a pleasure to see and savor.

The Blu-ray transfer I viewed was sparkling indeed: crisp and clear and a delight to watch. No extras are included on the disc, but simply to have this rarely-seen Chabrol movie available (and to see the beautiful face of Valli, above, once again) is more than worth one's time and, depending on the size of your pocketbook, one's money.

From Olive Films, Ophelia hit the street earlier this month and is available for purchase, if not perhaps for rental.

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