Guy de Maupassant’s novel Bel Ami seems like the perfect choice for a movie adaptation: it has all the plot twists and seduction scenes to make a great dramatic film. The story has been translated onto both stage and screen several times before, most notably in 1947.
The main plot is straightforward: a young soldier, Georges Duroy, returns from Africa but has neither the reputation nor the means to live in Paris. He meets Forestier, an old friend from the war, who introduces him to the life of the rich and powerful, where the young man builds his career and status by seducing the wives of influential men.
…represent different traits of La Belle Époque…
Unfortunately, plot is all first-time feature filmmakers, Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod, bring in their adaptation. The most important plot details come across, but at the same time the protagonist’s nature is not unveiled. Throughout the film Robert Pattinson throws smouldering looks at women from across the elegantly decorated rooms, slightly resembling an Edward Cullen, trapped in the La Belle Époque; however the performance doesn’t go much further. Although he is popular as a cunning seducer in literature, Duroy’s scheming side is only hinted at in the film.
On the other hand, the film itself never emphasises Duroy. Instead, the characters brought to the foreground are the women he seduces and the ways in which he uses them. Each of them has a different role in his life, as he takes advantage of them to ascend the social ladder: Madeleine (Uma Thurman, looking superb in period dresses) who writes his first article for him, Clotilde (Christina Ricci) who has the purest feelings for him, and Virginie (Kristin Scott Thomas) who unsuccessfully tries to hide her attraction to him, represent different traits of La Belle Époque, becoming the predominant characteristics of the story and the forces guiding Duroy’s life, while destroying theirs.
…truly women who rule Paris…
The three actresses not only overshadow Pattinson’s Duroy but also prove that it is truly women who rule Paris by manipulating their husbands and friends.
Overall, the new adaptation provides a basic idea of the plot. However, even the steamy scenes between Duroy and his conquests lose their power, leaving them to anticipate the intrigues of Parisian high society. These are also predictable from Duroy’s first dinner at Forestier’s and the meaningful looks he exchanges with the ladies present. Nevertheless, this is also a nice change from the usual representation of the common soldier, who makes his way into upper-class society, as the film prefers to concentrate on the people and the social climate, which he uses to acquire his goals.