Sunday, December 19, 2010

'Bel Ami' in The Notable Films of 2011

Bel Ami

Opens: 2011
Cast: Uma Thurman, Robert Pattinson, Christina Ricci, Kristin Scott Thomas
Director: Declan Donnellan, Nick Ormerod

Summary: In Belle Epoque-era Paris, a former French soldier from the lower class returns from Algeria and becomes a journalist. Through a series of affairs with well-connected women, he uses his looks and smarts to make his way up the social ladder.

Though sharing the same name as Europe's most prestigious hardcore gay porn studio, a fact that made many a headline writer's day when "Twilight" hunk Robert Pattinson was cast, the film is actually an adaptation of acclaimed French author Guy de Maupassant's second novel in 1885. The story is familiar, a young man basically screws over and just plain screws his way into high society, yet it's also considered one of the great books of its time and remains a perennial favourite in certain countries.

A lot of the novel's appeal however is de Maupassant's legendarily efficient and involving prose, a writing style that inspired countless others from W. Somerset Maugham to Friedrich Nietzsche, and one that will be very difficult to translate to the screen. It's also very much a classic French tale, so an English adaptation will likely get a hostile reception in western Europe even if it's good - if it's sub-par then god help anyone trying to do promotion for it over there.

Adapted by newbie scribe Rachel Bennette and directed by a pair of stage production veterans making their feature debut, the London and Budapest-shot period piece will have lots of raunchy appeal that "Twilight" moms might be nervous about their daughters seeing. One major scene is an orgy sequence with Pattinson's character which one source tells the press will be "tastefully done". That scene, shot at Kent's Crossness Pumping Station, will be drenched in candlelight and lace to disguise the fact the station is living up to its name in a different way than it was designed for.

More exciting is the cast with the brilliant Thomas, Thurman and Ricci ably supporting Pattinson who seems a better fit for this kind of material than some of his other projects. He's also joined by some under appreciated great British male talent like Philip Glenister ("Life on Mars," "Ashes to Ashes"), James Lance ("Absolute Power," "No Heroics") and Colm Meaney ("Star Trek: DS9," "The Commitments"). Set photos show off some exquisite looking costume design, but no footage is yet out and a release date isn't locked. At last report it'll be hitting the UK in August which means a likely late Summer/early Fall release in the States.

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