Dir: Claude Chabrol. Fr. 2006. 110mins.
A sleek, hand-tooled, extremely sophisticatedpackage, A Comedy OfPower is a very grown-up entertainment that artfully walks a line betweenmoral comedy and political thriller. A deluxe cast of French actors, headed byIsabelle Huppert in winningly brittle form, bring distinction to a complexdrama about corruption and intrigue.
It should do well internationally, although the narrative's byzantine complexity - very nearly in the Syriana league -might prove offputting for some.
The film begins with avirtuoso but unshowy extended shot in which a nervoustop-rank businessman, Humeau (Berleand)leaves his high-rise office, only to be arrested for crimes including misuse ofpublic funds.
Humeau is just one player in a vast game of bureaucraticfiddling under investigation by ruthless examining magistrate Jeanne Charmant-Killman (Huppert), akathe 'Piranha'. Charmant-Killman lives up to her name,being both charming and a maneater, and her latestassignment both catapults her into the public eye and boosts her alreadyconsiderable powers: woe betide the executive whose office is subject to one ofJeanne's surprise raids.
But Jeanne is less incontrol of affairs at home, where her depressed husband, chemist Philippe (Renucci) increasingly gets the short end of the straw.
A Comedy Of Power is a witty examination of the abuses andpsychological ill-effects of power - its French title translating more accuratelyas The Drunkenness Of Power.
Everyone involved is at thevery least compromised or morally eroded by their position at the top - Humeau is a duplicitous embezzler, creaming off publicfunds to afford an expensive mistress, but as he and his peers point out, theodd backhander or substantial rake-off is simply part of the game. Meanwhile,Jeanne's position as a professional nemesis, however idealistic about justice,has its own subtly damaging effects on her personal life.
Despite a sometimesfrustratingly oblique narrative, the intrigue ultimately boils down to this: acadre of creepy, cigar-smoking men are pulling every string in sight, even whenthey or their minions appear to be helping Jeanne - whose every promotion isreally a discreet kick in the teeth.
Among the corrupt captainsof business, Berleand is at his impeccably nervybest, while veteran Jean-François Balmer, in hisfeatured scene, gives a masterclassin the art of shiftiness.
But, as in her several otherfilms with Chabrol, this is very much Huppert's show,and her Jeanne is a characteristically polished study in elegant crispness. Sheand Chabrol clearly have fun working together, andfor all the confident simplicity of the film's style, the old master repeatedlythrows in little, sometimes apparently gratuitous stylistic curveballs - suchas a cutaway to a dropped glove - to keep the viewer alert.
France 2 Cinema