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The upper-class owner of a gallery, Catherine Lelievre, hires the efficient and quiet maid Sophie to work in the family manor in the French countryside...
For more about La Cérémonie and the La Cérémonie Blu-ray release, see La Cérémonie Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on July 2, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Sandrine Bonnaire, Jacqueline Bisset, Virginie Ledoyen, Dominique Frot, Julien Rochefort
Director: Claude Chabrol
» See full cast & crew
La Cérémonie Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, July 2, 2012
Winner of Volpi Cup and Pasinetti Award for Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival, Claude Chabrol's "La Ceremonie" (1995) arrives son Blu-ray courtesy of British distributors Artificial Eye. The only supplemental feature included on this release is an original French theatrical trailer. In French, with optional English subtitles for the main feature. Region-B "locked".
Sophie (Sandrine Bonnaire, Vagabond, À Nos Amours) is interviewed for a job she desperately needs. The job is simple - cleaning and cooking in a lavish home somewhere in the French countryside - but Catherine (Jacqueline Bisset, Day for Night, The Deep) wants to make sure that this time she hires an experienced maid who will please her husband Georges (Jean-Pierre Cassel, Army of Shadows, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie). The last one they had was nice, but wasn't experienced, and eventually drove Georges crazy.
Despite having some minor reservations, Catherine hires Sophie. She shows her the house and then introduces her to Georges and the children, Melinda (Virginie Ledoyen, In All Innocence, Bon Voyage) and Gilles (Valentin Merlet). After a couple of days, while having diner everyone agrees that Sophie is very professional, simply perfect for the house.
Things get complicated when Catherine hands Sophie a shopping list. She reacts in a way that at first surprises and then confuses everyone - she panics and later on confesses that she can't see well. When Georges offers to pay for an eye exam, she panics again. Eventually, she agrees to go to the nearby town and see a specialist.
But instead of seeing the eye specialist Georges has suggested and agreed to pay for, Sophie spends the entire day walking around and exploring the town. In a small deli she eventually meets Jeanne (Isabelle Huppert, Ma mere, Les soeurs Brontë), a friendly and very energetic woman who works in the local post office. The two agree to meet again.
The more time the two women spend together, the more they realize that they have plenty in common. They have both dealt with personal tragedies but managed to rebuild their lives. Both also make barely enough to make ends meet.
Eventually, Georges warns Sophie to stop bringing Jeanne to the house. One of many reasons why he does not like seeing her around is the fact that has routinely been opening his mail. But Sophie refuses, and thus unleashes a tragic chain of events.
La Ceremonie is a near perfect film by the French Hitchcock, director Claude Chabrol, a critic turned filmmaker who in the early 1950s contributed to the famous film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma together with Jacques Rivette, François Truffaut, Éric Rohmer, and Jean-Luc Godard. Inspired by Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt, Le beau Serge is nowadays widely considered to be the first film of the French New Wave.
Based on Ruth Rendell's novel "A Judgment in Stone", La Ceremonie is a film with two different identities. Part of it targets class inequality and argues that wealth can effectively detach one from reality. There is no specific political talk in it, but Chabrol isn't shooting blanks - the film satirizes the French bourgeois lifestyle and cultural practices very well.
On the other hand La Ceremonie also works great as a thriller. It builds the tension gradually and then climaxes with a terrific final act that changes the entire complexion of the film. Amongst the many great thrillers Chabrol directed throughout the years, La Ceremonie is arguably his most accomplished one, making its point in spectacular fashion.
The cast is universally excellent, with Huppert and especially Bonnaire playing their characters with superb confidence. Bisset is also terrific as the naive art dealer, who together with her husband can't see the dark clouds ahead of them.
Note: In 1995, La Ceremonie won Volpi Cup and Pasinetti Award for Best Actress (Isabelle Huppert and Sandrine Bonnaire) at the Venice Film Festival.
La Cérémonie Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.67:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Claude Chabrol's La Ceremonie arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of British distributors Artificial Eye.
I have a R1 DVD release of this excellent film which was produced quite some time ago by the now defunct Home Vision Entertainment (HVE). The DVD release uses a transfer which I believe was sourced from MK2 in France. This new Blu-ray release also appears to have a high-definition transfer sourced from the French distributors.
Generally speaking, detail is very good, with selected close-ups conveying very pleasing depth (see screencapture #10). The outdoor sequences also boast excellent clarity (see screencapture #10). More importantly, however, there are no traces of problematic degraining or sharpening corrections. On the DVD release there is plenty of edge-enhancement that nowadays makes the film virtually unwatchable. Color reproduction is a lot more convincing as well. On the DVD release the preferred by Chabrol soft and warm colors look incredibly anemic and quite often can also be seen collapsing (the sequence where Sophie is seen eating alone in the kitchen has the whites affected by a heavy dose of edge-enhancement, which makes them collapse). Light grain has been retained throughout the entire film. Lastly, there are no serious compression issues. The high-definition transfer is also free of large cuts, debris, and damage marks. All in all, this is a competent and much needed upgrade that should make fans of the late French director and his work very happy. (Note: This is a Region-B "locked" Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region-B or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
La Cérémonie Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There is only one audio track on this Blu-ray disc: French LPCM 2.0. For the record, Artificial Eye have provided optional English subtitles for the main feature.
The lossless track has a fairly limited dynamic amplitude, but the dialog is always crisp, clean, and stable. There are a couple of scenes where the classical music has a prominent role (the family viewing in the final third of the film), but otherwise dynamic movement is limited. For the record, there are no distortions or audio dropouts. The English translation is excellent.
La Cérémonie Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
La Cérémonie Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
La Ceremonie is a masterpiece of suspense, arguably one of Claude Chabrol's best films. Together with La femme infidèle and L'enfer, it is also one of my favorite films the late French filmmaker directed. Artificial Eye's Blu-ray release of La Ceremonie represents a dramatic and much needed upgrade in quality over the the now out of print R1 DVD release by Home Vision Entertainment. Considering their excellent record with both catalog and new releases, I truly hope that going forward the British distributors will also bring to Blu-ray the films from their Essential Claude Chabrol box sets. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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