It is tempting when writing about a film called The Bridesmaid to go with the easy post title of "Always a Bridesmaid" or "Never a Bride" or some other quick and easy take on that old saying. But when reviewing a film by Claude Chabrol why go with the obvious? In a piece on Chabrol in The New Yorker Terrence Rafferty accurately wrote (specifically of The Bridesmaid but it could apply to any number of his films) that Chabrol's film doesn't thrill but instead prefers "to unsettle, to disorient, to unnerve and to create the sort of apprehension that cannot finally be resolved." The Bridesmaid isn't a roller coaster ride. It doesn't hurtle down the tracks to a foregone conclusion. It creeps and crawls and finally surrenders to the impulses of madness.
It is also tempting to provide a plot summary for The Bridesmaid, to pull the reader into the twist and turns of the plot without revealing the ending, but then, what would that do? In a film that fools the viewer into believing it is a thriller before revealing itself to be an examination of two shared madnesses, one psychotic and the other obsessive, the plot summary would fool the reader as well. It would lead the reader down the path of misdirection in an attempt to lure them into watching it knowing that a film that does not provide the traditional payoff sometimes needs misdirection to gain an audience. But Chabrol doesn't care about that so why should I?
The characters of Phillipe and Senta, man and woman, lovers and neurotics, are both mad, it is true, but only one appears to be to the outside world. Phillipe hides his madness behind a veneer of societal responsibility, a responsibility to his job and his family. Underneath that veneer is a burning passion for an ideal woman, a woman that only exists in the stony form of a bust of a goddess named Flora, intended for display in a garden. Senta's madness is visible. She's "odd" and "a bit weird" and quite possibly lies any chance she gets. She believes taking someone's life for someone you love is the same as writing a poem for them. She has no veneer and doesn't see any reasons for one. Senta has no illusions propped up and on display for the world around her. She may tell lies but she presents herself as is, openly and without reservation.
It is this sense of the visible and invisible, of two shared madnesses coalescing as one that Chabrol observes with patience and reserve, building dread until the story reaches a point where both characters must reveal the full scope of their madness to the other, and accept it. The audience may want more but the attentive viewer will realize that's all there is to show. A climactic showdown or chase or confrontation between the law and the lovers, between society and the fringe, would be too obvious, too rote, too expected. Chabrol gives us instead a declaration of love that could or could not mean something else altogether. The Bridesmaid asks the viewer to study madness in the guise of a thriller. Some of the same cliches are there (the ominous questioning by the police, the final walk through the old abandoned house - or at least the upstairs portion of it) but in the end Chabrol doesn't want to thrill his viewer but to engage him in something richer, more full of life. As the credits roll and Flora gazes back on us, unquestioning and unblinking, we wonder, did we just watch a love story or a psychodrama? And then we laugh and realize, "What's the difference?"