A corrupt government –- supported by a corrupt media –- that seeks to invade an Arab country for its resources is how Declan Donnellan described his film adaptation of the 1885 Guy de Maupassant novel “Bel Ami,” which focuses on France’s complex relationship with Morocco.
But Donnellan and collaborator Nick Ormerod’s movie, which premieres Friday at the Berlin Film Festival, will get attention for a less geopolitical reason: It stars Robert Pattinson.
“The Twilight Saga” actor plays the lead character, Georges Duroy, who smarms and charms his way out of poverty and through the drawing rooms and bedrooms of the power-couples in 1890s Paris.
In the film, Duroy is pulled out of squalor by Charles Forestier (Philip Glenister), a fellow former soldier who has become a big-shot political editor. But, as Forestier's smart and beautiful wife Madeleine (Uma Thurman) tells him, the most important people in Paris aren't these men but their wives. The handsome Duroy enchants every female he meets, including the daughter of his mistress Clotilde (Christina Ricci), who gives him his nickname “Bel Ami.”
The lazy Lothario later becomes boy toy to the brilliant and savvy Madeleine, who writes his articles and mingles with the politicians the newspaper has brought into power. When Bel Ami is insulted and dismissed by the paper's editor Rousset (Colm Meaney), he turns his attentions to the man's wife Virginie (Kristin Scott Thomas) and daughter Suzanne (Holliday Grainger).
At a press conference, Pattinson said he felt very motivated to play the morally dubious character. “When I first read it, I immediately related to just the idea that someone's energy wasn't about trying to achieve some kind of goal -– the only time he had any energy [was] when someone slighted him,” Pattinson said. “That's how I was a few years ago. If someone insulted me, I'd get 10 years of ambition.” (He said he'd grown out of that in the years since he first read the script.)
Pattinson, who next appears in David Cronenberg's “Cosmopolis,” said he’s sometimes thrown by the female fans who wait hours for him to arrive at a public appearance, as they did, in Berlin's frigid temperatures, on Friday. “It's strange having a pretty much single-sex audience a lot of a time. But it's great -– they have been incredibly loyal.”
When asked if he would consider appearing in a future “Twilight” movie if author Stephenie Meyer continued the franchise, he said, “Yeah, I mean, I'd be curious to see what Stephenie would write, but I just think I'd probably be too old by the time they did it. I'm already too old!”
“Bel Ami’ is co-directed by Donnellan and Ormerod, a theater team that has worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal National Theatre in London and Moscow's Bolshoi Ballet; this is their feature film debut. “The part's somebody the opposite of Rob,” Donnellan said of his lead actor. “Bel Ami,” he explained, “is about somebody who has very little talent, who gets to the top on no talent, and it's a great parable for our times.”