American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Isabelle Huppert has the best poker face since Buster Keaton. She faces the camera with detached regard, inviting us to imagine what she is thinking. Since so often the thoughts of her characters run toward crime, revenge, betrayal, lust and sadism, it is just as well she can seem so passive; an actress who tried to portray these inner emotions would inevitably go hurtling over the top and into the next movie.
Consider "Merci Pour le Chocolat," her new film, directed by her longtime admirer Claude Chabrol. There is hardly any suspense about what she's up to. The title, and the fact that it is a thriller, inspire us to regard the movie's frequent cups of hot chocolate with as much suspicion as the arsenic-laced coffee in Hitchcock's "Notorious." Even if an early scene hadn't warned us that the chocolate contains a date-rape drug, we'd be wary just because of the dispassionate way Huppert serves it. She doesn't seem like a hostess so much as a clinician.
Huppert plays Mika Muller-Polonski, the first and third wife of the famous pianist Andre Polonski (tired-eyed Jacques Dutronc). They were married "for a few minutes" many years ago. After their divorce, he remarried, had a son named Guillaume, and then lost his wife in a car crash. She apparently dozed off while they were all visiting ... Mika.
The movie opens with the remarriage of Mika and Jacques, 18 years after their first ceremony. The spectators look less than ecstatic. The new family moves into Mika's vast, gloomy gothic mansion in Lausanne, paid for with the profits from her family's chocolate company. One of the rituals is hot chocolate at bedtime, personally prepared by Mika ("In this house, I serve the chocolate").