Berlinale Dispatch: Uneasy Robert Pattinson Gets Dressed for Dinner in Bel Ami

Poor Robert Pattinson: The weight of proving himself, in a movie that doesn’t have the words “Twilight” and “Saga” in the title, is shaping up to be heavier than a vampire’s curse. In last year’s Water for Elephants, he had a charming naivete, a seemingly natural shyness that was wholly inoffensive, if not exactly memorable. And as social schemer Georges Duroy in Bel Ami, playing here at the Berlinale out of competition on the festival’s next-to-last day, he works harder to redeem himself than any actor should have to: He applies a scowl from Column A with an eyebrow furrow from Column B to express displeasure; Smirk No. 4 denotes a moment of extreme hubris. The effect is like watching an athlete trying not to break a sweat – you might want to root for him, but there’s a part of you that just wants him to let it all out already.

What is it about the guy? Under the direction of first-time filmmakers Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod, who have directed mostly for the London stage, Pattinson isn’t half-bad. He doesn’t overreach, which perhaps saves him from embarrassment. But he expends so much energy in his desire to be subtle that he’s the exact opposite of subtle — yet he doesn’t just go all the way and take the performance over the top. Duroy is a fellow of modest means, rattling around Paris bedding the women of influential men to increase his own wealth and power. (The movie was adapted, by Rachel Bennette, from Guy de Maupaussant’s second novel, and it’s a foamy — if somewhat snoozy — bit of picturesque entertainment.)

The problem may be that the women around Pattinson run circles around him. They’re the ones you remember, from Uma Thurman’s politically astute Madeleine Forestier, to Kristin Scott Thomas’s mouselike, aging skinny-minny Virginie Walters, to Christina Ricci’s Belle Époch sexpot Clotilde de Marelle. Pattinson, despite the fact that his character is trying to dominate these women, looks a little afraid of them: Perhaps paradoxically, he has more erotic wattage when he’s playing wan Victorian valentine Edward Cullen, his character in the Twilight movies. Here, in his stiff collars and glossy top-hats, he looks like a very lean bird dressed up for dinner, only he’s the one on the plate.

I’m wondering how an actor like Pattinson, a guy who’s had so much teenage longing projected onto him he’s practically a walking piece of fan fiction, can ever unravel the tight knots of his own self-consciousness. Or if he can. Watching him in Bel Ami, I found myself hoping he’d rally, looking for subtle glimmers of awareness that might suggest he knows he’s supposed to make us believe he’s a cad, not just act like one. He’s trying so hard — why can’t he use those lizardlike eyes, that cat-that-ate-the-canary smile, in the service of making us forget who he is? Maybe it’s because he can’t forget who he is. And that’s the stiffest, tightest collar any young actor can wear.

*     *     *

This is my last post from Berlinale 2012, and here at the tail end of my 10 days here, I’m looking back on all the pictures I wanted to see and didn’t: Bunches of critics were shut out of the crowd-funded Nazis-in-space spoof Iron Sky when it screened late last week; I also missed the much-lauded Marley, directed by Kevin MacDonald, which I hear is an elaborate and involving portrait of the late singer and musician’s life. But there’s no use lamenting the ones that got away. If I can rally for a 10:30 p.m. screening tonight, I might be able to catch Tsui Hark’s Flying Swords of Dragon Gate. Saying good-bye to Berlin with a bit of 3-D craziness doesn’t sound like a bad idea at all.

Read all of Movieline's coverage of Berlinale 2012 here.

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  • Marie says:

    It's as if you're trying to tell people a joke but you're just not funny. You should also perhaps try not to write the word "twilight" in a review if you're capable of that...

    • Jen Yamato says:

      Her point is that Pattinson can't seem to get out of his own skin enough to distance himself from his Edward Cullen association, so of course she should use the word "Twilight."

      • VLovesElvis says:

        What's hilarious about this review and a few others like it, is that I've just read a handful of other reviews that actually said the opposite of Rob's performance. That it was so different than his "wooden" Twilight character and almost over the top here for Bel Ami. LOL! So, critics, which is it? The only thing that's really consistent with the critics so far is that the score music seems too much in the movie at times and that Scott Thomas is too good to play a weak woman in a movie.

      • Kanerwa says:

        What does it mean ''to distance himself from his E.Cullen association?''His's playing totally different character:journalist and social climber, not vampire.It's you bloggers that always mention Twilight without a reason.

      • xxx says:

        It should have been a Review of Bel Ami not a personal attack on Robert Pattinson, who by the way is a great actor Page McKinleys analyses why he is being attacked all the Time, when a Johnny Depp or Channing walk away with shi$ty performances without one critical word from the so called writers. Its quiet embarrassing for these people..and I'm having a hard time taking them for real anymore. They take the easy way out on dumping on a 22year old one...D I S G U S T I N G ..And Rob has more than Talent to leave Edward behind, its more these incompetent Critics who mention Twilight in every Review.

  • Emma says:

    Wonder if Robert P is as offended by the reviews as his obsessed fan base. I feel confident he has better manners than these girls/ women. Memo to fans of Robert P, hounding critics won't change their opinion of the film.

  • Sue says:

    Or maybe she can't disassociate him from who he is. She even said it herself he has to work so much harder than any other actor to get a decent review.

  • mucha says:

    and yes, allways forgeting the most important fact. he made this movie 2 years ago. he made 4 more films after this, including "water for elephants".

    • Brit. says:

      Right, let's just wait 10 years then we'll see. Acting is instinct, talent, you got or you don't. Dude doesn't have it. To the point that it's embarrassing to watch.

      • jojo says:

        that's not true. some actors do grow as they get older, and get more experience. some are born with the talent, but others work at it.

  • SK says:

    It seems as psychological research of the psychologist-layman.

  • Lyn says:

    This reads more like a critic of Rob in his current celebrity than his take of the character. Duroy is supposed to be this impoverished upstart who feels entitled to wealth and power but doesn't necessarily have the tools for it, except for his handsome face and ability to seduce society women who are already ripe for the picking. He's a fraud, so he's self-conscious. Duroy was not in natural environment, he was trying hard to be convincing that he belongs in the upper echelons of the society he's cheated his way to get into. At least, that's what I get from reading the book. From this review, it seems that's exactly what Rob did with this character.

    • gabi says:

      dead on, this is how the Book was written and this is how Rob played George. For missing out to see that , this critic is a fraud

  • Matt Wallinger says:

    An interesting review.

    The problem with this movie may be a combination of two things: over-bearing direction -- and -- Pattinson's attempts to deal with the oppressive weight of mass projection, the massive changes that massive fame and wealth bring -- and self-criticism.

    This young man will have to take drastic steps, if his work is not to suffer.

    I also agree that haranguing critics does not change minds.

  • jojo says:

    "In last year’s Water for Elephants, he had a charming naivete, a seemingly natural shyness that was wholly inoffensive, if not exactly memorable" the funny thing is he did water for elephants after bel-ami. which was filmed like 2 years ago. i think he is just one of those that get better as he gets older.

  • dex says:

    Seems like a fair review. I saw a few bel ami clips and wasn't overly impressed with pattinson's acting in it.

  • cindy says:

    Did David Cronenberg call you up and ask if he should cast Rob in Cosmopolis?? No I didn't think so......

  • pru says:

    Think of all the "big" Hollywood stars who make routinely crappy, vapid films generating 1-star reviews. They don't take risks, they go for the easy blockbuster action film or lightweight romance. Rob is taking risks, genuinely looking for roles that give him a wide variety of challenges, including at the box office. Every review should help him grow for the next role, as long as it is fair criticism and not mean-spirited disparagement. Rob, continue choosing scripts with the thoughtfulness you have shown to date and eventually you will find the one that resonnates with critics, audiences and your own high standards.

  • tina says:

    Stephanie, i agree pattinson is more guarded after twilight, in his pre twilight movies like how to be , he is fearless. He just have to let go and be fearless, i have hope in him base on his pre twilight movies. Love him in WFE out of all his post twilight films. . Bel Ami is coming out in March in my country , will express my views after seeing it.

  • says:

    i loved the costumes and the music, so rich and evocative.

  • Rick c/o Sab Star says:

    You know, this critical lambasting of Robert Pattinson has assumed such proportions as to become a sociological phenomenon within that small subset of individuals who pontifically refer to themselves as media critics.

    Today we have seen Robert called wooden, lackluster, bovine (Cow-like??? I mean...REALLY????), and watched as various and assorted epithets have been heaped on the man's head all because he played Edward Cullen...well the fact that he has youth, beauty, talent, wealth, ambition, and the heart of perhaps the second most beautiful and sparky woman on the planet (My wife has first place, always) may play a role too.

    All that aside, I may be a man, but I know masculine beauty when I see it. I may be Joe Average Citizen, but I know talent and personality when I see them. It seems to me that the film critic's whole raison d'etre is predicated upon the idea that we are mindless sheep who will follow their Orwellian lead and hate what and whom we are told to hate.

    Sorry to disabuse you guys, but I'm not a grazer. I have sharp teeth, and I like to use them too.

    On that note I offer a quote from one of my favorite authors, Robert Anson Heinlein, that seems to suit the day.

    “Some people insist that 'mediocre' is better than 'best.' They delight in clipping wings because they themselves can't fly. They despise brains because they have none.”

    Let the vitriolic critics put THAT in their collective pipe and smoke it...because, in any case, they obviously need to lay off the crack.


    • Patrick Hallstein / McEvoy-Halston says:

      Stephanie's not intending to clip wings but mend them some. The women do tend to run circles around him. It's almost as if he's been instructed to make this the point of his existence; and insecure teenage girls' sensing this in him, explains their keen interest in him. He's in hell, and it's nice to have a critic take notice and to wish for him an out. Somehow for me his whole life seemed summed up in the first film I saw him in -- Goblet of Fire -- where he plays the supposed "most fit" but who really is the most appealing of sacrifices: a perfect, beautiful, athletic young man -- a creature of artifice -- Rowling could wretch for compliant use to appease the appetite of the gods. (With Harry Potter, with Radcliffe, the Great Wizard but [ostensibly] imperfectly masculine, the gods we know would have to take more care.) It's the film that may have launched his career, but to me it was the one that told me not to bother following along this one.

      • Pr J says:

        What an insightful comment: "the most appealing of sacrifices: a perfect, beautiful, athletic young man -- a creature of artifice." To me, this says more about the critics and you: that you both can't see past his beauty. While Harry Potter/Radcliffe are "imperfectly masculine" and thus worth following since you self-identify.

        And the funny thing is that Pattinson himself freely admits he is not athletic or perfect, that he feels like an imposter representing these "perfect" characters.

  • xxx says:

    I wonder what they would write if he would have played in Hangover, but I'm glad he avoids dreadful Blockbusters like that...but its the only category of Movies, these Critics like to give 4 stars

  • Amy says:

    I give the guy credit for trying. He could have cashed in with a big budget action film (and probably gotten love from critics for doing so), but chose something different.

    I think people forget he's only in his early twenties. He has plenty of time to learn.

  • Max Renn says:

    Outside out the Twilight movies that guy is a pretty okay actor, and quite watchable on screen. Something I can't say about "actors" such as Sam Worthington or Channing Tatum.

  • Terry says:

    Well, whether Pattinson can forget who he is may be in question, but certainly one thing is clear. The reviewer spent more time talking about Pattinson's Twilight career, post Twilight career, his fans, etc. that quite clearly SHE can't forget who he is.

  • pru says:

    Rob should take heart from these thoughtful comments. Will be interesting to see if audiences agree with the critics. I doubt they will.

  • Betty b says:

    We must remember that critics are" Fans Too" and true to form will most likely champion only their ("chosen ones) actors and actresses. Robert Pattinson's ability to maintain his massive fan base which include young and old alike, is every actor's dream. He continues to reward us with his perceptive ability to give actresses a opportunity to be more than just window dressings in films. This in no way diminishes his exceptional talent and presence on screen. He is a ingenious thespian.

  • Niki says:

    I've read ten reviews on this and all of them have been negative! What I can't believe is that anyone is surprised. Robert Pattinson can't act!! All the little girls that are in love with him an Kristen don't care that these two can't act so they push and push to convince everyone that Kristen and Robert can act. Look, as all the little girls point out he has money now, he should move on to something else that will continue to attract little girls, maybe singing. Robert definitely needs to get out of acting so he stops hurting actors that have to work with him and continue to loose money for studios. All Robert's fans keep saying that WFE and Remember Me were hits. Please learn how movies make profits before stating untruths. Take any movies production budget then add atleat 40% for marketing then for domestic gross sales you get 50% and foreign 35%. If you do that you will see that both movies barely broke even but made no profit.
    If Robert Pattinson was that great of an actor outside of Twilight wouldn't his movies make more money? I'm sorry but I gave him the benefit of the doubt and saw both movies and he was the weakest part of both movies. I kept waiting on him to become the character he was protraying and it was like someone gave him the wrong coat to wear. In addition on the trailors and pictures from Bel Ami, Robert looks like a little boy playing dress up!The other point is either he can act or he can't! You can't blame that on a director. When the director shows up he considers he has an actor to work with and he gives him direction and the scene plays out. The director cannot make an actor feel something that the actor is incapable of feeling or emoting for a scene.Could you imagine saying you can run a business and you get hired by a company and you go in and expect someone to tell you what to do! Actors make way too much money for their inabilities to be blamed on someone else. If you say you can act then take on the part and prove it, but don't whine about it and blame everyone else but yourself. Robert has had lots of time in the last few years to take classes and learn to fix what is missing
    in his performance but he hasn't. Once again he is responsible for his failures not critics or the 90% of the rest of movie goers who have seen him attempt to act and left disappointed!

    • thaly says:

      You should watch LITTLE ASHES and then you can talk about his talent all right??

      Same to this "critics" they enjoy all this Hollywood crap. It´s obvious, you hate when a guy has something you really want to have. It´s ridiculous. Media and "critics" don´t forgive somebody else success. Leo Dicaprio for example. He´s a terrific actor and "critics" always ignore him.

      What a people?? I think we need to support young actors in order to benefit the industry, but no, some of us like to put obstacles to succesful guys only by jelousy reasons. Shame on you!!

    • xxx says:

      so I guess Johnny Depp isn't a good actor too, because the Rum Diaries or the Tourist didn't made any Profit, how about Gosling ...or Leo in " Edgar ?" and your comment about the rest of the Movie Goers..I'm for one enjoyed every Movie he is in and I can see his progress . BA was filmed 2 years ago ..Too bad that you are already poisoned to an extent of no will miss out on a very good go back and write about Channing

  • Quirky- says:

    Um, woo, go Robert Pattinson! Woo! Best actor ever!

    (Are they gone yet?)

  • ALEX says:

    Acting is not for him. He'll try 2-3 more movies and then he'll go and do things he actually enjoys. You can tell this is not his passion. He looks uncomfortable on screen. Sorry girls, but if you like him so much, you want what's best for him. He has millions, it's time to let go...

  • Guest says:

    What a strange writeup. Well, I too have seen the film I have to say, I agree with one statement "Pattinson isn't half bad". In fact he does a decent job here. Is he perfect? No. There are a few inconsistancies, but nothing significant and nothing that takes away fom his overall performance. The women are, as stated, very strong especially Ricci and Scott-Thomas (who plays a role so far removed from previous ones I have seen her in. The script isn't perfect, but, the overall production is lush and costuming award level quality. The fact of the matter is the storyline is so topical (even in the late 19th century setting) that the modern viewer is easily absorbed and interested. Definately worth one's time. I hope an overzealous critical campaign doesn't sink a worthy effort before others have the same opportunity to formulate an opinion. I think many will be surprised.

  • Max says:

    Dude, 'critics' like you must be shut off real movies!