October 6, 2012
Love for you is an appetite: How ‘Bel Ami’ compares from book to film
Translated from French to English, ‘Bel Ami’ means ‘my beautiful friend.’
The novel, which goes by this name, was written by French author Guy de Maupassant and published in 1885. The first English translation, which has also been referred to as The History of a Scoundrel: A Novel, first appeared in 1903.
The lead character, Georges Duroy, begins the story as a poor and lowly ex-soldier – but through his ‘beauty’ he is soon able to captivate women and climb his way, from bedroom to bedroom, toward the upper echelons of society.
The novel flows at a smooth and steady pace, and is a witty and refreshing read – even though Duroy is perhaps the most unlikable lead character in literature. On every page, Duroy oozes with ego, self-obsession and narcissism. Even when he is poor and destitute, he is equipped with a frustratingly high self-concept.
In the beginning, his sexual conquests are bumbling – he is clearly inexperienced and desperate. But as the story progresses, his flights of fancy become more frequent and exploitative – to Duroy, women are no more than bodies to be used and connections to be abused. Once he has bled all that he can from a woman, she is cast aside.
The 2012 film adaptation, starring the perfectly cast Robert Pattinson in the role of Georges Duroy, follows each plot point of the novel, blow by faithful blow. Every key point is covered, with the only notable exception being Duroy’s curled moustache.
I can see why Pattinson chose this role – if anything was to help him shed the perfect romantic image of the acquiescing and lukewarm Edward Cullen, it’s the cruel, malicious and red-hot Duroy. When he reaches his most emotional high, and Duroy gives in to a fit of rage, it is clear that Pattinson really can act, and he can do it well.
Of course, with Pattinson’s cult teenage following, it would have been counterproductive to make Duroy completely unlikeable. What works in the filmmakers’ favour here is the absence of his internal dialogue.
With the book, the reader has a direct line to each of Duroy’s shrewd and cunning thoughts. With the film, one is able to give Duroy moments of grace – perhaps his behaviour is motivated by the real human feelings of jealousy and love?
In the film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, I lamented the loss of Scout Finch’s inner monologue. Not knowing her thoughts took a certain authenticity from the story – the viewer is not as privileged as the reader once was. But in the film adaptation of Bel Ami, losing this insight into Duroy’s mind allows the character to be more forgivable. You may say, more watchable.
On that point, there were certain brutalities of the book that the film stripped away – but again, this was probably also a good strategic move on behalf of the filmmakers. But in either format, this story is worth experiencing. So go ahead, be enamored by Bel Ami.
The verdict is:
Book or Big Screen? Book
The film is: 3. A decent, credible, faithful adaptation
I would be very happy to receive your comments and feedback on ‘Book or Big Screen’ – please click on the below link to tell me what film adaptation you are excited about, or to suggest the book/film that I should review next.
Coming soon: A review of ‘On the Road’