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French Maestro Claude Chabrol Dead at 80

French Maestro Claude Chabrol Dead at 80

One of the beacons of the French New Wave, Claude Chabrol, has died at 80, according to media reports, including news from The Associated Press. Christoph Girard, who handles cultural affairs for the Paris City Hall, announced Chabrol’s passing on his blog and the cause of death was not immediately clear. Chabrol was 80.

Calling Chabrol, “murderously genteel,” in his profile of the director in GreenCine, Michael Fox cited a frequent comparison with Alfred Hitchcock among a litany of his admirers. “‘France’s master of suspense’ is forever stuck to his lapel…The most obvious and superficial connection between Chabrol and Hitchcock is that, sooner or later, a corpse is almost certain to show up in both men’s films.”

Chabrol returned to Paris following World War II where he became acquainted with fellow French New Wavers, Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Éric Rohmer, Jacques Rivette and others. The group established the cinema publication, Cahiers du cinéma through the 1950s. In 1958, Chabrol made his first feature, “Le Beau Serge,” a Hitchcockian drama starring Jean-Claude Brialy, considered one of the early films of the French New Wave. The film, funded by his wife, gained him critical success and was followed by the commercially successful “Les Cousins” the following year. Among his other films were “Les Biches” (Bad Girls, 1968), “Le boucher” (The Butcher, 1970), “Ten Days Wonder” with Anthony Perkins (1971) and “High Heels” (1972) with Mia Farrow. He made nearly a movie every year throughout the ’80s and ’90s and into the 2000s, including last year’s “Bellamy” with Gérard Depardieu.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, traveling in the western Dordogne region Sunday, compared Chabrol to two giants of French letters, Rabelais and Balzac, according to the NY Times. The country’s Prime Minister Francois Fillon said he was a “great director, producer and screenwriter (who) was one of the grand figures of the ‘Nouvelle vague,’ which revolutionized the style and techniques of cinema by looking at real experience, true life, that which is indiscreet and subtle.”

Born in June, 1930, Chabrol had a son, Matthieu Chabrol with his first wife, Agnès and a second son, Thomas Chabrol with his second wife, the actress Stéphane Audran. His third wife, Aurore Paquiss, had worked with him as a script supervisor since the 1950s. In 1995, he was awarded the Prix René Clair from the Académie française.

Noted French Prime Minister Fillon, “With the death of Claude Chabrol, French cinema has lost one of its maestros.”

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Sharon J Kahn

So much of the coverage of Chabrol’s film career is–quite justifiably–about his cinematic style. But it’s no surprise to his fans that there was a deeply political side to Chabrol’s films. Here’s an edited excerpt from a long interview I did with him for the production notes for “La Ceremonie,” when New Yorker Films opened it in the U.S. It points to a stream that runs throughout his work.

CC: There comes a moment where people can’t abide their condition any more, so they break everything. It happens in the U.S., too.

Q: Is that the message of the film?

CC: People are naïve about the relations between the classes. You are probably not as sensitive to this in the U.S. as in Europe, but in Europe, the fall of the Berlin Wall brought with it a great sigh of relief that Marxism is dead and that all of this Communist stuff is gone. Happily, it is true that Communism has more or less disappeared — or at least what the Soviets called Communism. But you can’t draw the conclusion that the fall of Communism put an end to what Marx called the class struggle. I think what I want to say in this film is “Be careful, it’s not over.” There are still some truths of nature. Even if Marx was wrong about everything else, which I believe he was, he was not wrong about the fact that social classes are in conflict.

Q: Are we condemned to live with this struggle forever?
CC: I don’t think so, but it has to be the people at the bottom of the ladder who say that they’ll stop the struggle, because the dominant class has no interest in its continuation.

Q: Your films have often dealt with freedom and the problems of the bourgeoisie. Have your ideas changed over time?
CC: Not really. Perhaps I express the ideas differently — I wouldn’t know about that — but the ideas have stayed the same. They are simple. Freedom is a definitive good, and we must recognize liberty for everyone. The bourgeoisie’s problem is that it is condemned if it doesn’t take into account the fact that there are other social classes. Anyone who shuts himself off in his own universe is condemned to die.

Q: How do you explain that in the film?
CC: The most difficult thing to get from the people in the upper class is the consideration that people of inferior classes are not inferior. A lower social class is the class of people who work for others. And while those in the higher position may feel an obligation to act decently, decency is not enough. They have to understand that their socially superior position is not humanly superior. In other words, they are not in a superior state to the people who work for them. And that is horribly difficult.


We have lost a genius and a rare talent. Bon Voyage Maestro Chabrol


Maintenant, la bourgeoisie française peut provenir de masquage. Adieu, m. Chabrol.


After a friend and I first saw “Le Boucher” in NYC during its initial release, we walked across Manhattan Island east to west saying nothing. As we reached the point where our paths home would have to diverge, we stopped and shook hands. We said nothing; there was nothing to say. Words, not coming from Chabrol, would have contaminated the experience with no hope of recovery.

Merci mille fois, Maestro Claude. May you find some excellent local wine in your new home.

michael oblowitz

If Godard was the Marlowe, Chabrol was the Shakespeare of the Nouvelle Vague. Merci Maestro….

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