John Corbett spends some face time with RPatt.
If Communism has one good legacy, it’s that its dreary regimes were too poor to fiddle with historic buildings. To their eternal and entirely unintentional credit, the rouble-strapped Reds left Mitteleuropean architectural gems like Prague and Budapest pretty much intact. And just look at Cuba.
I reflected on this recently while watching Bel Ami, a flaccid 2012 movie adaptation of the 1885 novel by the very enjoyable French writer, Guy de Maupassant. Once well known in translation by Anglo-Saxon readers because of the raciness of his work, de Maupassant (1850-1893) cut a short but vivid swathe through late 19th-century European literature. At once a trenchant observer of and enthusiastic participant in the social and political excesses of the Belle Époque,de Maupassant died young and barking mad from syphilis contracted in his youth. His well-turned and worldly writings are recognised though as precursors of the modern short story; both Somerset Maugham and Henry James paid him the ultimate compliment of knocking him off.
Bel Ami , which translates nicely as “pretty boy”, is a tale of karmic payback, tracing the rise of an ambitious (and hot) young man from the provinces who builds his career by bedding the wives of rich and influential men until high-bourgeois society kicks him out. Actresswise, the movie is a recognition derby, with Kristin Scott Thomas cast uneasily as a sex-starved society matron, Uma Thurman chewing scenery as a high-octane bluestocking, and the big surprise – Christina Ricci, the formerly weird-looking Goth girl from The Addams Family now morphed into a pretty and credible love-interest.
The male lead is Robert Pattinson, who was on hiatus at the time of filming from the dreadful Twilight series of teenage vampire movies. (A client once kindly invited me to a media screening of Twilight: Breaking Wind or something in a Gold Class cinema with lashings of booze, nibbles and waiter service during the movie – just hit the buzzer on your seat. I was so stoned by the boringness though that I couldn’t follow the plot. If indeed there was one.)
Pattinson (or RPatt as he is known on the E! Channel) isn’t up to the role. He also seems to be still in vampire mode, so you see a lot of close-ups of his face and teeth and his surprisingly non-gym bod. Mind you, the only people with good bods in the Belle Époque were navvies and stevedores, but I digress. In a remarkably vague and unfocused performance, RPatt emotes a limited range of moods from sulk to pout, but little more.
The real star of the movie is the lush set decoration. Gorgeous gowns. Gorgeous jewels and accessories. Gorgeous French Second Empire style interiors. Gorgeous table settings. Gorgeous, period-perfect exterior scenes that were partly shot, so the credits tell you, in the former Soviet satellite-state of Hungary. Call us old-fashioned but we love Belle Époque style; it put us in mind of a rich, indulgent and easy recipe for a weekend morning when you are lounging around in your peignoir or dressing gown, as you do.
Oeufs en cocotte (Coddled Eggs)
(Serves one, two or more)
A quick note: A cocotte is the French name for a small ramekin or casserole in which individual portions are cooked and served. It also has the secondary meaning of a fancy woman or lady of pleasure.
You will need
1 tbsp butter
3 tbsp cream
One dozen eggs
A herb of your choice, finely chopped. Chives are good, or any of the anise-flavoured herbs such as tarragon or chervil or fennel. Parsley, thyme, garlic chives, basil, dill and marjoram also complement the delicate flavour of eggs
Salt and pepper for seasoning
A deep baking tray to use as a bain-marie
Water for the bain-marie.
How to do it
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Grease the inside of the six ramekins well with butter and break two eggs into each. Add half a tbsp of cream and then the herb of your choice, and season.
Take the deep baking tray and cover its base with half an inch of water. Place the ramekins in the tray and bake in the oven for 12 minutes until the yolks of the eggs are soft and the whites are just set.
Serve with smoked salmon, Champagne, toast cut in points or whatever you fancy. –