What stuck with me most after watching La cérémonie (1995) for the first time was the chewing gum.
It’s not the scene most often cited in discussions of this late-career classic from French thriller master Claude Chabrol. Don’t get me wrong: that particular moment—in which Sophie (Sandrine Bonnaire), a seemingly shy, repressed maid, and her new friend Jeanne (Isabelle Huppert), an insolent, rule-breaking postmistress, trade murderous secrets, Sophie laughing that “they couldn’t prove anything,” and collapse shrieking in each other’s arms onto Jeanne’s bed—is the film’s inflection point, where the simmering rage of both women intertwines and rushes headlong into a climax of abrupt violence. It cements, as Chabrol said in a 1996 New York Times interview timed to the film’s American release, that together the women become a “dangerous weapon” where “Jeanne is the vowel, Sophie the consonant.”
By that point in the film, I’d already been primed to expect that the two women would fuse their parallel grievances, and that norms were about to be shattered. The scene I’m talking about happens just before the midpoint of La cérémonie, when Sophie, frustrated at her inability to carry out a simple directive—call in a shopping list, and arrange its delivery—goes to the post office and begs Jeanne for help. Jeanne, sitting behind her desk, feet up, takes out the piece of gum she’s chewing and sticks it under the desk. She calls the grocery, rattles off the order (and adds a couple of extra items for good measure), hangs up the phone, takes the gum back—and puts it in her mouth.
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