Pretty but shallow romantic period drama starring Robert Pattinson, Uma Thurman and Christina Ricci
A young man gains social and financial advancement via his irresistibility to women, but has trouble securing professional credibility. And then he gets cast in a film called Bel Ami! Yes, it’s hard to imagine that Robert Pattinson, chiseled star of the Twilight franchise, didn’t feel some common ground with his character, Georges Duroy, whose beauty gains him everything but respect. Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod’s film, adapted by Rachel Bennette from the novel by Guy de Maupassant, uses Pattinson’s preposterously good looks as a running joke: female characters throb knowingly when presented with this drifting, penniless ex-soldier; swiftly, he becomes a commodity, shared, exchanged and sometimes married by the powerful wives of Paris.
Does Duroy appear to enjoy his sexual conquests? Not much, no. Does he use his social sway to loose his talents on the world? No: he’s a bit thick, and really just interested in money. Does this all render the film a little bitter and depressing? Well, yes, if sincere emotions are what you’re after, but perhaps Pattinson has had enough of that, after all that shirtless panting in forest glades that he’s done over the years...
The problem with a film about an empty character is that it can end up a little empty. The directors are the founders of the theatre company Cheek by Jowl, and their flair is apparent in prettily-choreographed street and group scenes; they also draw decent performances from Pattinson and his comely co-stars Uma Thurman, Kristin Scott Thomas and Christina Ricci. The gender reversal of having a male character sexually objectified and disempowered by women is also potentially interesting. But the film never contextualises Duroy’s blankness, and can’t quite choose between an angsty or mocking tone. The result is a piece that’s diverting enough to look at, but doesn’t quite seem to know what its own point is.
General release from Fri 9 Mar.