By Christophe Chataigné
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A Comedy of Power

This article is over 14 years, 8 months old
Director: Claude Chabrol; Release date: 14 December
Issue 320

French master of suspense Claude Chabrol is one of those film directors who has always denounced the hypocrisy of the French ruling class. A Comedy of Power is no exception. This slow paced and dialogue-rich film has its roots in the “Elf affair” – a scandal involving a minister’s mistress on the Elf payroll, arms deals and corruption to preserve or further the company’s and France’s interests.

Although not a comedy, the ironic tone is set by the disclaimer – “Any resemblance to persons living or dead is, as they say, coincidental.” It is quite easy to recognise certain characters by their physical resemblance to the real life protagonists, and the fictional oil company is called FMG (ie the letters alphabetically following E, L and F).

Jeanne Charmant Killman is the judge investigating the affair. Her first act is to order the arrest of Michel Humeau, the CEO of the company. We see him in his top floor office with bay windows dominating Paris reflecting his own stature of untouchable. He takes the lift down and finds himself surrounded by police and is arrested and humiliated despite shouting, “Do you know who I am?”

Charmant Killman sets out to question Humeau. The balance of power gradually shifts during the interrogations. Humeau, who was one of the most powerful men in France, is left to beg for medication for his skin condition while the judge starts to assert her authority and uncovers the reach of the scandal in the highest echelons of the government. But as she does so other pressures dawn on her. Her private life descends into chaos and the powers that be start to plot against her as she strives to charge more and more officials.

Although A Comedy of Power denounces the arrogance of the corporate and government world, it also looks at the ambient sexism, and most importantly at how power corrupts when it is left to the few – even if it is held with the best of intentions.

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