Bel Ami Review

Film Still
  • Bel Ami film still


Too reliant on lavish costumes, heaving bosoms and all the other trappings of the period drama.

Guy de Maupassant’s novel, 'Bel Ami', about a French ex-soldier who comes to Paris to seduce his way into the upper echelons of society, has been adapted for the screen and stage on numerous occasions since its publication in 1885.

Georges Duroy, played here by Robert Pattinson in a role that trades on the real-life devotion to his boyish charms, first appears in a Dickensian hovel through which a lone cockroach crawls and quickly disappears.

While escaping his woes in a riotous burlesque-cum-brothel, he meets Forestier, a wealthy socialite and political editor of La Vie Française, a newspaper poised to bring down the government. Forestier served with Duroy in Algeria, and noticing Duroy’s impoverished appearance, invites him to dinner at his home.

From there, realising what can be gained from commodifying his attractiveness and shilling it to the opposite sex, Duroy secures himself a post at the newspaper and begins a string of tawdry affairs with a procession of wealthy men’s wives, each providing greater social elevation than the last.

It’s a fanciful journey for sure, particularly as Pattinson’s Duroy simply isn’t charismatic enough for these seductions to appear even faintly plausible, and the wives he bewitches aren’t renderedthoughtfullyenoughfortheiradulterous instincts to appear genuine.

The story of Bel Ami is rich with sociological and psychological interrogation. It is a tale of emotional and financial poverty, of moral decrepitude, of the hunger to be recognised, of political shifts and the spirit of tireless possibility spawned by La Belle Époque.

And yet Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod’s film never quite manages to convey these thrusts of meaning, relying instead on lavish costumes, meticulous design, heaving bosoms and all the other trappings of the conventional period drama.

One wishes, as Pattinson unbuckles his belt for the umpteenth time, that they’d spent a little less time on the trimmings, and a lot more on the soul. To really work, he should have been darker, seedier and a lot less boyish than he is presented here.

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