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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 30, 2003

'Chaos' a critical view of self-absorbed lives

By Kevin Thomas
Los Angeles Times

 •  'Chaos'

Not Rated, extreme brutality toward women

109 minutes

A pair of deftly staged identical incidents proves pivotal in Coline Serreau's audacious and original "Chaos," which mixes satire and suspense in unexpected ways in a film that is both darkly amusing and bitterly critical of bourgeois society's indifference to suffering.

In the first incident, the elderly, widowed Mamie (Line Renaud, the great cabaret star and now character actress) makes her annual trip from her home in the country, checking in at a small Paris hotel and dropping by the elegant apartment of her son Paul (Vincent Lindon), a hard-driving businessman who instructs his wife, Helene (Catherine Frot), to tell his mother he's already left for work.

In the foyer, Mamie hides alongside the elevator and, sure enough, her son steps out. When Helene subsequently receives an identical brush-off from her own son Fabrice (Aurelien Wiik), via his girlfriend, she snaps.

An evening or so earlier, a young woman, running for her life down a dark street near Pigalle with several thugs in pursuit, begs Paul to open his car door and let her in. He instead locks her out and must watch as the woman is all but beaten to death by her pursuers. At this point, he agrees with his wife that they should at least call the police before taking off.

Upset by her husband's don't-get-involved attitude and their son's insolence, Helene suddenly recognizes them as the selfish, spoiled louts they are.

In an instant, Helene sets off to track down the badly beaten young woman, Noemie (Rachida Brakni), finds her in a coma and devotes all her energies to her long and difficult rehabilitation.

Because Noemie's pursuers have scarcely called it a day, Helene finds herself caught up in high adventure with the recovered young woman, who eventually entrusts Helene with her astonishingly brutal life story.

Serreau, whose "Three Men and a Cradle" and "Mama, There's a Man in Your Bed" were far gentler, skewers men across the board, applying a lighter touch to Paul and Fabrice, but annihilating the array of savages who drove Noemie to run for her life. Beneath all of her heroines' escapades are blistering feminist attacks.

Serreau gives her actors a terrific workout, demanding drastic shifts in expressiveness, mood and physicality, and they more than rise to the occasion, with the fiery Brakni winning a most promising actress Cesar.

"Chaos" is an apt title for a film with such an encompassing and critical view of hectic modern life in its cruel self-absorption. But as a work of skilled screen craftsmanship, it is, in its construction and execution, anything but chaotic.