Crusading Dublin Journalist Memorialized on Screen

Joel Schumacher’s Veronica Guerin , from a screenplay by Carol Doyle and Mary Agnes Donoghue, is the true story of a courageous Irish journalist plunged into the murky Dublin underworld of a hitherto-untouchable heroin ring making millions by laundering their ill-gotten gains without any fear of the authorities.

For her courage and tenacity, Guerin paid with her life. The resulting public uproar caused the Irish Parliament to meet in a special session to toughen the nation’s weak anti-drug laws, enabling the authorities to confiscate income from unexplained sources. But the film gloriously transcends its seemingly elemental mob-raking story. CateBlanchetthas brought the ill-fated Veronica to vivid life-faults and all-with such artistry and conviction that we are made to feel a terrible loss when we see her killed. There is no shock or surprise at this turn of events because the murder is revealed at the outset, so that the subsequent flashback fills us with a constant feeling of foreboding even as Ms. Blanchett’s heroic journalist keeps revealing new facets of her remarkably charismatic personality.

The love she felt for the people closest to her is movingly demonstrated in a few well-placed scenes of familial warmth snatched from her time-consuming obsession with finding and telling the truth about a social evil that her colleagues in the profession had shamefully neglected out of fear of the country’s repressive libel laws. But even after her child is threatened, and she is shot in the leg as a warning, Guerin refuses to back down from what is essentially a one-woman crusade. Barry Barnes, who plays Veronica’s husband, Graham, suggests that there is no easy answer to explain Veronica’s risky behavior.

“There is a very loving, strong home life established in the movie so that there is so much at stake, so much that could be lost. Veronica weighs this, but can’t stop doing what she is doing,” said Mr. Barnes in the production notes.

Veronica’s mother, Bernadette, played by Brenda Fricker, chides her daughter for her bold and fearless attitude, recalling the time when she was an adolescent football star at her school and ventured into a nasty old man’s house to get her football, which had crashed through his window. This was too dangerous, her mother suggests, but the unrepentant Veronica replies, “But I got the ball”-thereby missing her mother’s point, as always. The unfazed mother drives home her point by imploring Veronica to realize that “sometimes it’s braver to walk away.”

The movie shows that Veronica was not universally admired in her lifetime. She was clearly a trouble-maker, a sensationalist. Some people were ungenerous enough to suggest that she had shot herself in the leg to get the public’s attention and sympathy. I must confess that I kept thinking of all the conservatives complaining about the liberal media being so beastly to poor George Bush and poor Arnold Schwarzenegger, as if the rest of us should simply stand up, extend one arm, and scream ” Sieg heil! ‘ It’s a stretch, I know, but it seems that everything I see on the screen these days reminds me of the disgusting political climate.

Mr. Schumacher and his producer, Jerry Bruckheimer, are to be congratulated for not only shooting their film in Dublin, but for casting it almost entirely with Irish actors, with the splendid exception of the Australian-born Ms. Blanchett. A long time ago, I was influenced by friends into developing a complicated theory on why the best actors in the world are either Irish or German. (Don’t ask me to explain why.) I wish to avoid any suspicion of my being bigoted-or, at the very least, politically incorrect. With the Irish, I suspect, it has something to do with their affinity for blarney. But then I have always had a weakness for the lilt in Scottish accents as well, and the program notes tell me that Ciarán Hinds, who plays the double-dealing John Traynor-Veronica’s criminal informant, who betrays her in the end-began his acting career at the Glasgow Citizens’ Theatre, though he has played on many an Irish stage over the years. He may thus be another exception to the all-Irish casting of Veronica Guerin .

But there is no mistaking the Irish pedigree of Gerard McSorley, who plays John Gilligan, the purest and meanest archvillain I have seen on the screen in many a day, particularly now that everyone seems to be dabbling in various shades of gray and avoiding the stark moral contrasts of black and white. Let’s put it this way: I would’ve been very frustrated and disappointed if Gilligan hadn’t gotten his comeuppance after Veronica’s murder. I almost hissed at the screen as he was being trundled off to the hoosegow. And yet my high estimation of the movie was in no way diminished; instead, I was overwhelmed by a sweet nostalgia for the old-time movies that celebrated the triumph of good over evil, though seldom at so high a cost as reality demanded of Veronica Guerin and the people who loved her. Normally, I would be somewhat skeptical about a crusade against the drug trade; the overall “war” against drugs around the world strikes me as a foolish waste of time and resources, as more and more drugs of choice come along to excite and enslave the hopeless addicts among us.

It is only through Ms. Blanchett’s magnificent incarnation of a remarkable woman that I was emotionally sold on Veronica Guerin .

Chabrol’s Family Saga

Claude Chabrol’s The Flower of Evil ( La Fleur du Mal ), from a screenplay by Caroline Eliacheff, Louise L. Lambrichs and Mr. Chabrol, is the 73-year-old auteur’s 59th feature film in a 45-year-old career that launched the Cahiers du Cinema branch of the French New Wave in the late 1950’s. Mr. Chabrol (b. 1930) was followed, in quick succession, by François Truffaut (1932-1984), Jean-Luc Godard (b. 1930), Jacques Rivette (b. 1928) and Eric Rohmer (b. 1920).

In their Cahiers years, Mr. Chabrol and Mr. Rohmer collaborated on the first serious book-length analysis of the films of Alfred Hitchcock, though Mr. Chabrol always insisted that his films were more influenced by Fritz Lang than Hitchcock, and Mr. Rohmer’s films tended to be comedies of manners and morals and elective affinities with no overt violence. At 73, Mr. Chabrol has simplified his palette in the way of such old masters as Carl Dreyer, John Ford, Jean Renoir, Howard Hawks, Charles Chaplin, and even Hitchcock and Lang near the end of their careers.

With respect to Mr. Chabrol’s The Flower of Evil , I would prefer to think of it as a masterly work of the artist’s late period rather than as the tired product of his old age. Actually, The Flower of Evil is Mr. Chabrol’s most Proustian enterprise: It draws on the director’s memories of World War II and the German Occupation, with the attendant divisions in French society between the collaborators and the resistance fighters on the one hand, and the masses of the uncommitted on the other. In this context, a certain degree of cynicism about all politics on the part of Mr. Chabrol became almost inevitable.

As the opening credits appear on the screen, the camera moves through an apparently empty but luxuriously furnished house, pausing before a staircase seemingly pregnant with potential motion. The camera moves on to a room with a male corpse stretched on the floor, and a female with her knees drawn up sitting on the floor in a corner. We have thus gained an early glimpse of both the fleur and the mal in the film’s Baudelairean title.

The story actually begins with a young bourgeois, François Vasseur (Benoît Magimel), returning home to the Bordeaux region of France after spending four years practicing law in America. At the airport, François is uneasily reunited with his father, Gérard (Bernard Lecoq), from whom he is clearly distant, leading us to speculate that his stay in America was largely to escape the stifling bourgeois atmosphere represented by Gérard, the owner of a modernized local pharmacy where he maintains a medical laboratory.

When François asks about his stepmother, Anne Charpin-Vasseur (Nathalie Baye), he is told by Gérard in a disapproving tone that she has entered local politics and is now a candidate in the mayoral election. This bit of family business is the key to unlocking the secrets, scandals and high crimes of the Charpin-Vasseur family: François’ stepmother is disturbed to learn that an anonymous leaflet has appeared detailing her family history (and providing Mr. Chabrol with an economical method to supply the audience with a lively backstory).

“That’s a good one!” the pamphlet begins. “Charpin-Vasseur is at it again! Woe is us, she’s getting to like it! Ever since the Charpins and the Vasseurs started marrying each other, these degenerate savages are up to anything. In 1981, Charpin-Vasseur and his older brother’s wife were killed in a mysterious car accident. No matter: the widow married the widower. That way, she can compare the two animals …. It’s a becoming family, but this family has rotten luck! In 1958, they celebrated the birth of the Fifth Republic with a plane crash that took the lives of the candidate’s father and mother. They only called themselves Vasseur at the time. It was probably a good idea to hide the Charpin under a heap of manure.”

The pamphlet continues. “Grandpa Pierre Charpin held high administrative responsibilities between 1940 and 1944. This didn’t please his son, who left the family and got himself killed as part of the resistance shortly after D-Day. That’s what happens when you keep things separated. A real mess. A bit later, Pierre Charpin was murdered in such strange circumstances that even one of his own daughters, Micheline, was under suspicion …. “

The repercussions from the distribution of this pamphlet lead inexorably to a second murder in the Charpin-Vasseur family, but not before we receive many intimations about the truth behind the first murder. When François goes home to the family, he is reunited with his half-sister, Michèle, with whom he’d engaged in a flirtatious semi-incestuous relationship before fleeing to America to escape a permanent commitment. He is reintroduced also to his seemingly mousy Aunt Line (Suzanne Flon), who turns out, plotwise, to be the mouse that roared: She is the suspected murderess of her father after her beloved brother died at the hands of the Nazis.

It is in Ms. Flon’s characterization of Aunt Line that Mr. Chabrol finds the soul of his film and the linchpin of his narrative-not in the perfunctory romance of François and Michèle, nor the marital tension between Anne and Gérard, who is repeatedly unmasked as a boor, a drunk and an adulterer before history repeats itself with moral exactitude, though with somewhat ironic results.

The wheels of cyclical violence are set in motion when Michèle confides to François that she suspects Gérard of having written and circulated the poison pamphlet to drive his wife out of politics. Our own suspicions are somewhat confirmed when we see him vote against Anne in the municipal election. The funniest scenes in the film depict Anne’s visit to potential voters in a lower-class housing development. Mr. Chabrol’s disenchantment with electoral politics is certainly timely!

Crusading Dublin Journalist Memorialized on Screen