Comedy of Power

Loosely based on a judge’s dogged investigation of a corrupt French oil company during the 90s, this 2006 feature is one of Claude Chabrol’s most satisfyingly astringent films. Forgoing his usual preoccupation with marital infidelities and familial hypocrisy, he explores something much more insidious: the smugness of powerful men who assume that lining their own pockets and abusing the public trust is their birthright. While a director such as Francesco Rosi would probably confine his indictment of corporate malfeasance to excoriating businessmen and their ties to the government, Chabrol mingles contempt for public odiousness with an interest in sexuality and private life. His fearless, relentless judge is oblivious to her long-suffering husband’s feelings of abandonment, and her insistence on giving sleazy men their comeuppance is more a victory over misogyny than an exercise in civic responsibility. Superbly incarnated by Isabelle Huppert (in her fifth starring role for Chabrol), she’s almost nunlike in her quiet heroism. In French with subtitles.