Set in the belle epoque of the Third Republic in the Paris of 1890. Starring Robert Pattinson as Georges Duroy, an impoverished ex-soldier who’s helped out by another soldier (Philip Glenister as Charles Forestier). They go back to Algeria in the 1880s. Forestier introduces Duroy to his wife, played by Uma Thurman as Madeleine, and she helps him achieve a reputation as a writer of essays. Duroy then seduces Clotilde (Christine Ricci) and Madame Rousset (Kristen Scott Thomas). Duroy marries Madeleine after he and Madeleine accompany her husband dying of consumption. Madeleine has a lover, Duroy and she divorce. There are scandals about government ministers and the invasion of Morocco. Duroy might marry the daughter of his enemy, Rousset, played by (Colm Meany).
This is from a novel by Guy de Maupassant, I had to read him for French A level. Maupassant wrote about peasants (often from Normandy) and how their lives of miserable poverty made them embittered, hardened, and mean minded survivors. Duroy is no exception, he starts out as an impoverished gold digger and he’s quite ruthless about using sex as a means to power and money. This is no morality tale about a wicked opportunist getting his comeuppance, he succeeds in his ambition for wealth and status. His father lives in poverty and daily prays for paradise in this world, Duroy will not be such a martyr to delayed gratification, he has no illusions about what money and power do to people.
In the world of politics and culture Duroy is initially out of his depth and gets by through seducing the right woman. The starchy suited masculine world of 1890s Paris is really run by clever women, Duroy is never in control of events, not even of his private life. He is jealous and insecure and in his behaviour with fellow capitalists he is like a well varnished cockroach in an elegant jar with other cockroaches. The fascination comes with seeing how he will fall from money and influence. The film looks a little like costume drama TV episodes compressed into one film. The acting can be pretty wooden, Thurman seems hilariously incapable of acting angry. Kristin Scott Thomas is her usual dewy eyed, tightly buttoned vulnerability. Pattinson himself seems all groomed surface with nothing much behind it. The men are vile and the women are confined to the usual role of tempter, seduced respectability, hard headed manipulator, or bored wife. Nice to look at but not too great to listen to.