A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
The French have a name for the events leading up to a death by guillotine. They call it "the ceremony." Although Claude Chabrol's "La Ceremonie" (1995) contains no guillotines, there is a relentless feeling to it, as if the characters are engaged in a performance that can have only one outcome. It comes as a surprise to all of them, and to us. But given these people in this situation, can we really say in hindsight that we're surprised?
Chabrol, a founding member of the French New Wave who died in September 2010 having made 54 features, is sometimes said to be influenced by Hitchcock, perhaps because many of his characters become involved in murder but few of them make it a profession. It often comes into their lives as the result of a psychological compulsion set in action by particular circumstances.
"Of course, murder always heightens the interest in a film," he told me in 1971, at the New York Film Festival. "Even a banal situation takes on importance when there's a murder involved. I suppose that's why I choose to work with murder so often. That's the area of human activity where the choices are most crucial and have the greatest consequences. On the other hand, I'm not at all interested in who-done-its. If you conceal a character's guilt, you imply that his guilt is the most important thing about him. I want the audience to know who the murderer is, so that we can consider his personality."
That leads to the question: Does he let us know who will commit murder(s) in "La Ceremonie?" I think he does, although there will be some in the audience who are surprised that anyone in the film is killed. Assuming that some must die (this is a film by Chabrol, after all), it is obvious who they must be. That's why I won't issue a spoiler warning: This isn't a who-done-it. It's more about how the two murderers do something together that neither would be capable of doing by themselves.