The film “Bel Ami” is based on Guy de Maupassant’s novel, and directed by Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod. The story takes place in France at the end of the 19th century, where a young and poor man accidentally enters the upper class society, when he meets his acquaintance from war. Georges (Robert Pattinson) is penniless soldier, who has just come to Paris and try his luck there. In the beginning of the film he is sitting in a dark dungeon. Georges looks miserable and no one would convince me that he is that charismatic Bel Ami, who will seduce the wealthiest and the most influential women of Paris. He meets Madeleine (Uma Thurman), who is clearly a femme fatale type, Clotilde (Christina Ricci), who is very feminine, sensitive, and very loving, and finally Virginie (Kristin Scott Thomas), who needs affirmation of her sexuality and youthfulness at her age.
While I was watching this film few questions came to mind, such as – what would I sacrifice to achieve success, prestige, and wealth? Is there any linkage between love and ambition or never – getting – old couple of love and money? Moreover, the society does not seem to be changed that much in a bit more than a century. We still have class society, where economic capital and social capital play significant roles for our position in the society. Hegemonic masculinity was clearly depicted in this film, showing the utterly charming and charismatic Georges, who is able to seduce any woman. However, it should be noted that he had an individual approach how to seduce these women, which once again outlines the male power. He was a good observer, so he knew what each of the trio was lacking in their perfect upper class life. The weakness of femininity is pointed out as well, apart from Madeleine Forestier’s character, of course, since she is shown as quick–witted and possesses unbelievable strength. The Madeleine character clearly shows what a woman could do, if she would be let in politics. Since it was not allowed at that time, Madeleine had to manage to work from the ‘backstage.’ “Women are not allowed to play cards.” It does not mean they are not capable to play and win.
“No, it’s not enough to be loved. Not even by you.” Those are the words Georges (Bel Ami) says to his faithful lover Clotilde, who has forgiven his betrayal and still loves him. He adds “You won’t understand me, you have never been poor.” Arguably, Georges is right, in the society where everything is downgraded to money relationships in Marxian terms, nothing is left out there. The use of a close–up of Georges to emphasize the emotional moment when he says that he does not want to be like his father, who works his fingers to the bones and on Sundays goes to the church to beg for a next better life, when it is clear that there is no such a thing as ‘next life’ or ‘afterlife’, makes you feel his pain and ambitions at the same time. “Your flesh rots,” so you need to seize the moment, and take the chances now. Directors have used flashbacks from Georges’ time dungeon few times during the film, in order to compare these two different worlds of poverty and wealth.
One might suggest that George is just a ‘gold digger’, who does not care about any of the seduced women’s feelings and he does not regret anything of what he has done, which seems to be immoral in our Western society. In ‘civilised’ society we tend to pretend that people through the times have managed to change the nature of human being developing huge amount of rules how one should behave and self restrain. However, this transformation has not happened. We just have learned how to control ourselves as best as we can, thus we strongly stress that there is no place for immorality. Very often we are hypocrites. That’s what we are taught to be; nevertheless hypocrisy should be very well disguised and that is what Georges learns and that is what leads him to the fulfilment of his ambitions.
When you watch film which is based on autonomous literature, you somehow have lost your magic power to predict what will happen next and how it will end. It’s not just the typical Hollywood formula; it is something much more complex and frightening in a sense. The culmination is ambiguous and, until the last ten minutes, it is impossible to figure out whether the villain will be defeated. It turns out that Georges is the hero and the villain at the same time, therefore if you let villain to be overthrown, so will be the hero. When I was talking about this film to my friend, she asked – does it have a happy ending? – I believe it depends on our value system, does this film have happy endings or not. It is definitely worth watching. The music is triggering and actors play convincingly. The soft voice of Christina Ricci, the grace of Kristin Scott Thomas, and the look of Uma Thurman intertwined with the charm of Robert Pattinson makes a perfect combination.