La Cérémonie

Home Vision Entertainment, $29.95

This 1995 French crime flick from veteran director Claude Chabrol isn't likely to be remade by Hollywood any time soon. On disc July 27 along with Chabrol's Story of Women and Masks, La Cérémonie is a thriller about class resentments between the haute bourgeoisie and their underlings—not a theme that resonates too well in the States. Yet its very foreignness and the signature implacability of evil that is Chabrol's hallmark both mark it as a superior suspense movie that Hollywood would get wrong even if it tried to adapt it. (If you need a recent example of such failed efforts, try the current Wicker Park, a remake of the 1996 L'Appartement—a film not directed by Chabrol).

The great Isabelle Huppert plays a postmistress in rural Brittany who harbors an unhealthy dislike for the rich Lelièvre family. Sandrine Bonnaire is the maid they hire to look after their grand home, stolid and reliable, content to spend her nonworking hours watching TV, an activity that neatly hides her dire secret—she's illiterate (for reasons Chabrol never fully explains). Village busybody and snoop Huppert naturally latches onto Bonnaire, who's desperate and grateful to have a friend, even when that friend pumps her for family gossip. The two pariahs bond over past criminal accusations, both dismissed, lending to our sense that something dreadful will finally occur.

But what has the poor Lelièvre family—which includes Jacqueline Bisset—done to deserve Huppert's wrath? Nothing. They're high-living snobs, but they also have healthy liberal consciences. They treat Bonnaire well, not shoddily. She's the reluctant class warrior, the tagalong to Huppert's harpy, but she's also the steelier in her resolve to keep her secret (which Huppert never fathoms). So the Lelièvre family's ultimate fate, set to Mozart, is doubly shocking both because it is undeserved —unlike in most movies—and because Chabrol never fully explains it. Unlike Genet's The Maids, for example, here you're never quite sure what sends the culprits round the bend, precisely why they snap. (And in truth, Bonnaire never snaps; she just ploughs the same furrow with the same mantra whether cleaning up dust or blood: "I'm not afraid of work.")

IN CASE YOU haven't heard, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ is now on disc. Coming out Sept. 7 are the Coen brothers' The Ladykillers, with Tom Hanks in full eccentric mode; the comic-book adaptation The Punisher with Thomas Jane, used to better effect in the South African Stander; and the tepid aviation comedy Soul Plane— a flight you'll want to miss.

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