You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Essentials: The Films Of Claude Chabrol

The Essentials: The Films Of Claude Chabrol

Looking at the core French New Wave movement in broad strokes, you essentially get five Cahiers Du Cinéma critics-turned-filmmakers: Jean-Luc Godard, the all-you-need-is-a-gun-and-a-woman, pop-cinema deconstructionist turned oblique radical; François Truffaut, the humanist with an affinity for childhood; Eric Rohmer, the genial comedic moralist; opaque experimentalist Jacques Rivette; and then, over in the corner, Claude Chabrol. Considered by many to be the most mainstream of the group, with his sinister, provocative, Hitchockian impulses, the filmmaker was also appraised as a distant, sometimes aloof formalist, given his objectivist proclivity for eye-of-god morality tales that generally end in tragedy.

Differences in approach and philosophy notwithstanding, Chabrol is regarded as the founding father of the French Nouvelle Vague movement, largely because he boasts the distinction of being the first of these five filmmakers to have a feature-length effort released. 1958’s self-financed “Le Beau Serge,” which would arrive one year before Truffaut’s “400 Blows” and two before Godard’s “Breathless," proved to the movement’s other members that rogue filmmakers could break into the industry on their own if they possessed a product filled with conviction.

Intensely prolific, and arguably not super-picky (averaging two or three films a year at times), Chabrol seemed to simply love making movies whether he originated the idea or not — indeed, unlike his fellow New Wave auteurs, Chabrol was happy to take on studio assignments. By the time of his death in 2010 at the age of 80, the filmmaker had made over 50 feature-length films, many of them suspense dramas often centered around the lives and fates of women.

While Chabrol is often regarded as France’s answer to Hitchcock, that title is really better suited to Henri-Georges Clouzot, as Chabrol’s contributions to the thriller and suspense genres are more moody and mannered than the association would suggest — the filmmaker’s textured and observist works have much more on their mind than scares and thrills. Not a man with the most hopeful view of humanity, most of Chabrol’s works boil down to mordant morality plays, and often acerbic studies of hypocritical class and social mores. Also key to understanding Chabrol is his gallows humor, frequently sly and often ridiculing. “Stupidity is infinitely more fascinating that intelligence,” he once famously quipped.

While there’s simply not enough space here to do justice to all of Chabrol’s work, with the long-overdue inclusion of two of his films in the Criterion Collection this month — "Le Beau Serge" and “Les Cousins” — we figured this was as good a time as any to take a quick snapshot look at the departed filmmaker’s essential works.

"Le Beau Serge" (1958)
Not a murder melodrama, in any shape or form, Chabrol’s remarkable debut film, “Le Beau Serge” is, however, highly influenced by, and modeled on Hitchcock’s “Shadow of a Doubt.” The story focuses on sickly but successful prodigal son François (frequent collaborator Jean-Claude Brialy) who returns to his provincial French village after a decade-long absence to discover that little has changed since he left. The most dispiriting aspect of his return to the depressed town is François’ old friend Serge (Gérard Blain) who, unhappily married and an unapologetic alcoholic, only lapses deeper into bitter despair at the sight of Francois, who then takes it upon himself to rescue the man (Chabrol regular Bernadette Lafont also co-stars). But Serge doesn’t want François’ pity or charity and the two old friends find themselves deeply at odds. Meanwhile, a side narrative concerns a young female and her father about whom Francois reveals the unspoken truth that the other townspeople secretly know: the man is not her true father. But with “the secret” uncorked, the drunkard goes home and sexually assaults his daughter which leads François to beat the old man within an inch of his life. Despised by the town for his savior complex, the only thing left for François, appropriately for a film with such deep religious undertones, is one more shot at redemption, in what ultimately amounts to a cutting and raw chronicle of class and friendship. [B+]

"Les Cousins" (1959)
In this arch moral tale, Charles, a sheltered young mama’s boy from the sticks (Gérard Blain) gets much more than he bargained for when he goes to Paris to study law and live with Paul, his sophisticated, lothario cousin (Jean-Claude Brialy). In some ways an acidic and wry mirror image of “Le Beau Serge,” Chabrol’s sophomore effort has the lead roles reversed with Brialy playing the corrupting effete douchebag to Blain’s innocent and naive, yet disciplined university student. While the skirt-chasing Paul is obnoxious and pretentious, even worse is his much older friend Clovis (Claude Cerval), who becomes a toxic, louche force in their already hedonistic lives. Attempting to get the serious young student to unwind, Paul convinces Charles to come take in the Paris nightlife and its bonnes femmes and soon, Charles is head over heels in love with Florence (Juliette Mayniel). But disillusioned with his decadent life even as he enjoys it, Paul soon decides he covets what Charles has, seduces Florence and convinces her that she’s a whore and only a wolf like him can love her. Distraught, Charles put his nose to the grindstone of his school work, while his boorish cousin drinks his evenings away, but the ultimate tragic irony occurs when he fails his exams and the flippant and unstudied Paul passes his. Worse, this caustic film’s tragic ending is a reminder that sometimes might is right regardless of what’s just. [A-]

"Les Bonnes Femmes" (1960)
Not properly released in North America until the early aughts, "Les Bonnes Femmes" has been called, by Chabrol himself, his best work — despite facing negative criticism at the time. It’s a simultaneously heartbreaking and chillingly dark piece. The film follows four shop girls in Paris over a few days, all sharing a mutual goal of attaining the love of a good man — Bernadette Lafont, Clotilde Joano, Lucile Saint-Simon and Chabrol’s then-soon-to-be wife Stéphane Audran, who starred in 25 of his pictures. Chabrol brings insight and thus importance into their everyday existence and their simple but potentially unattainable dreams; one girl is in love, another is busy but directionless, another secretly sings in a nightclub and the fourth is being stalked by a man on a motorcycle. Together the four lovely and hopeful girls aspire to transcend their monotonous existences, but the cruelty of life soon descends, crushing their dreams and exposing them as pure fantasy. A sympathetic Chabrol pitches up a romantic and vibrant milieu at first — the world seems to be their oyster — but one by one the girls are exploited, which in one case leads to a grim and devastating ending. Chabrol may be on their side, but the cruel world he depicts in “Les Bonne Femmes” is a man’s world, and women are just passing time in it. Never has Paris (city of lights and romance) seemed more sad and tragic. [A]

"Les Biches" (1968)
Another take on the class struggle, this time with some lust, deception and creepy identity-theft under/overtones thrown in for good measure, Chabrol’s “Les Biches” focuses on a disturbing and sexually ambiguous relationship between two women in Paris. The older, beautiful and wealthy Frederique (Stéphane Audran once again) picks up the younger, street artist Why (Jacqueline Sassard), takes her under her wing and provides her a home. While some call it a tortured lesbian relationship — a bathtub scene early on features copious discomfort and smooth wet skin — it’s the equivocacy of the females’ bond that gives the film its potency and sexual electricity. Soon the duo takes a trip to the older woman’s villa in Saint Tropez and there they meet three men, the most important of the trio being the charming and sophisticated Paul Thomas (Jean-Louis Trintignant). While Frederique tries to show the belle artiste how to navigate the choppy waters of affluent society, both women set their amorous sights on the debonair older man. But of course only one woman can win and thus when Why is rejected, her affection for both Paul and Frederique begins to curdle, and takes a turn toward the calmly deranged. Audran won Best Actress at the 18th Berlin International Film Festival for her turn as the nurturing and yet icy Frederique. [B+]

"The Unfaithful Wife" (1969)
Chabrol’s love of Hitchcock is more than evident in "The Unfaithful Wife" which was also his second film to star his then wife, Stéphane Audran in the lead. The tale of an adulterious love triangle, lauded at the time of its release for turning a revealing lens on the French bourgeoisie, the film follows an unhappy marriage made happy again when the husband murders his wife’s lover, which rekindles her respect for her husband’s power; hardly a typical love story. Though overall the film is emotionally minimalistic, that provides greater contrast for the show of passion displayed in the murder, contributing to the off-kilter approach. Indeed, if truth is really stranger than fiction, then Chabrol’s take on marriage feels so very strange, it simply must hold some truth. It also features one of Chabrol’s best parting shots in — “Je t’aime comme un fou (I love you like a fool/crazy person).” Like all strong material these days, the film was remade in 2002 as the English-language "Unfaithful" starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane. [A-]

"Le Boucher" (1970)
Neither a typical thriller nor a typical love story, but unnerving, creepy and strangely romantic in equal measure, “Le Boucher” focuses on two emotionally damaged people thrown together by circumstance. Set in a small village, Helene Daville (played by Stéphane Audran) plays a sad schoolmistress, left cruelly by her lover 10 years earlier who has romantically shut down. Popaul (Jean Yanne) is a butcher, just out of the army — who also carves up bodies. Both yearning for connection, the lonely souls become strange companions, spending their free moments together. However Helene is unable to reciprocate Popaul’s feelings; when he asks what she would do if he kissed her, she replies, “Nothing, but I wish you wouldnt.” Chabrol‘s elegantly painted portrait of romantic realism takes the foreground, against the slowly building suspense of a series of murders taking place in and around town — blood is used sparingly but to great effect. Though hardly a whodunnit (the identity of the killer is evident to all, most of all Helene) the more interesting game at play is why Helene doesn’t turn him in and if his unrequited love will lead him to kill her — and whether maybe, after all, they could still save each other. Also featuring a disturbing score by Pierre Jansen, “Le Boucher” is arguably Chabrol’s masterpiece, an elegant construction of mood, tone and atmosphere that is disarmingly effective and acutely disquieting. [A+]

“La Rupture” (1970)
Featuring Chabrol‘s patented sense of dread and unease, the director’s 7th feature is another skewed take on Hitchcock — a social drama/horror with fluctuating tenors of mystery and intrigue that will leave you indignant. Opening with a brutal domestic dispute that results in a six-year-old being hospitalized with a head injury, this flick from the Cahiers du Cinema genre prince follows its very foregrounded violence with less literal scumbaggery and backstabbing, eventually climaxing with nearly every character devolving into insanity. After the disastrous scene during breakfast, Helene (Stéphane Audran) moves into a creepy boarding house and struggles for sole custody of her injured son. However, her husband’s wealthy parents care neither for her plan nor for her, so they hire Paul Thomas (Vincent Cassel’s poppa Jean-Pierre) to dig up/fabricate dirt so that they can gain care of the boy. Paul pretends to be an old acquaintance that Helene must’ve forgotten and clandestinely inserts himself into her life by pretending to be sympathetic to her plight, even though he is quietly pulling strings to paint her as an unfit mother. As the filmmaker has already lassoed audiences in with a blunt beginning, for the rest of the movie he employs more dialogue-heavy sequences involving morally complex characters than shock tactics. But knowing that chattiness can get tiresome, he puts extra effort into exhibiting the supporting cast and locations, from the strange boarding house tenants (who provide just the right amount of unsettling flair) to the curious park balloon-seller (maybe the only rational, kind human being in the entire picture). By the end, most of the players meet destructive fates, all except for the oily rich father pulling the strings — though his plan didn’t quite work out, he’s certain to gain the care of his grandson considering the state of everyone else. It’s a poignant punctuation by Chabrol; a scathing attack on the haves who make the have-nots do their bidding, and reap the benefits in the end. [B+]

"Violette Noziere" (1978)
Chabrol’s first movie with muse-to-be Isabelle Huppert, "Violette Noziere" is the film that rocketed the actress to stardom in France after she won the award for Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival. A historical drama about a young girl who attempts to murder her parents after they discover her dalliances with older men, it is often met with comparisons to his future (and much better) attempt at the genre in “The Story of Women.” There’s no denying that Huppert electrifies the screen, although it’s difficult to see how such a hard, icy actress grew from this vivacious girl. Their working relationship is just starting out here, and you can tell they’re not quite comfortable as some of the acting feels stiff, though not from Stéphane Audrane, Chabrol’s soon-to-be divorced spouse, who plays Violette’s hysterical mother Germaine in a performance that won her a Cesar award. The story itself is told through a series of confusing flashbacks, and Chabrol’s New Wave influences, complete with dream sequences and hallucinations, hinder the emotion of the movie, turning Violette into a psychopath, rather than a human being with whom we can identify. Chabrol hasn’t quite accessed the humanity of a repressed female the way he will in future films, but it’s a turning point as he moves into his next phase of features. [B-]

"A Story of Women" (1988)
Isabelle Huppert and Chabrol had quite a working relationship, and this film is really the apex of their collaboration. Huppert plays Marie, a mother of two during World War II, who turns to performing abortions in order to earn money and support her family. Based on a true story, "A Story of Women" is about the difficulties of being a woman, and especially a mother, in a man’s world. Chabrol deftly handles the historical drama genre and never turns Marie’s story into a black-and-white case of right and wrong. Her character may be cold and greedy, but it’s made clear she doesn’t deserve her ultimate fate and while we admire her for her love of life, we also despise her for taking advantage of a loving husband. It’s probably Huppert’s best role with Chabrol as she’s playing perfectly to her type and really holds the sometimes melodramatic story together; she fully deserved the award for Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival that she ultimately won. And if Chabrol feels a little uncomfortable with the strains of making a more realistic film than his New Wave roots might urge, he makes up for it with beautiful shots of poverty-ridden small town life in France. [A-]

"Madame Bovary" (1991)
Chabrol got all the elements of the adaptation of Gustave Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary” right, except for one thing — he forgot to find an actress who could play the Emma Bovary found in the novel. If you haven’t read the book, you might appreciate Isabelle Huppert’s performance, but she’s completely too serious and harsh to play the incredibly silly and naive Emma. This film is a great example of a director using his favorite actor even when they might not be the best person for the role. If only the acting — and that includes the predominantly male supporting cast including Jean-Francoise Balmer as Dr. Bovary — weren’t so atrocious, then we could focus on Chabrol’s perfect recreation of 19th century France. Emma accumulates ferocious debts after marrying a small town doctor, and Chabrol goes all-out with the costumes and set design. Every piece drips with splendor, and juxtaposed against the mediocre streets of a town on the outskirts of France, Emma’s eventual downfall from overspending is foreshadowed in every shot. But “Madame Bovary” may be about an unsatisfied woman, which was one of Chabrol’s specialties as he got older, however no amount of beautiful cinematography and art design can save the blatant miscasting of Huppert. [C-]

"Betty" (1992)
Perhaps Chabrol‘s most nihilistic effort and most depressive statement on human nature, 1993’s "Betty" is a study in not just a character’s self-destructive tendencies, but her wanton desire for self-immolation. Featuring an engrossing turn by Marie Trintignant (daughter of Jean-Louis Trintignant) as the broken-down titular lead, Betty is an annihilative, young alcoholic seemingly hellbent on drinking herself into oblivion. At a nightclub she is rescued from seedy admirers by Laure (Stéphane Audran), a sympathetic fellow alcoholic who recognizes another lost soul and decides to take her in after hearing her stories of victimhood at the hands of ruthless high society. The film then circuitously fills in the blanks of Betty’s backstory as Laure tries to bring her back to at least a functioning state of alcoholism. The truth is Betty is her own worst enemy and then some. She cheats on the bourgeois husband who plucked her from poverty and introduced her to affluence, and then is faced with a grim divorce settlement, under which she must give up complete custody of their children and get paid a moderate stipend for life, or, penniless, face a bitter and merciless custody battle. Out of options, Betty settles on the only path she knows and returns to the bottle. But more disquieting is the revelation that alcoholic or not, Betty is a cancerous force who cannot help but ruin herself and those around her. With an appetite for destruction like an unquenched lust that must be sated, Betty soon sets eyes on Laure’s lover — almost because she can. Laure flees and Betty discovers that she has greedily destroyed the last person who actually gave a damn about her. Depressing and bleak, but powerful. [B]

"La Ceremonie" (1995)
Chabrol definitely moved away from his New Wave roots as he got older, and ventured into realism here (at least until the ending) with a story of two lower-class women who become friends in the country. Sophie (Sandrine Bonnaire) plays a maid working for a bunch of snotty, rich people; she befriends Jeanne (Isabelle Huppert), an eccentric, sometimes manic postal clerk. It’s here that Huppert finally breaks type, playing an erratic and crazed young woman who hates any and all authority. Bonnaire is also a real find as the dyslexic, shy girl who can’t stand up to her icy and pretentious employers (played by Jacqueline Bisset, and Jean-Pierre Cassel). They too, however, have their own concerns — they’re raising a family and are just coming off firing a maid. A polarizing, wild third act in which all hell breaks loose will divide audiences — shocking, provocative and almost deliriously violent, seemingly out of nowhere, the finale is likely seen as either the best commentary on lower class oppression in France, or the worst. Considering the sly irony of the denoument — in which you can practically see Chabrol’s sinister smile across the screen — we’d call the bold, cavalier conclusion a success at the very least. [B+]

"Merci, Pour Le Chocolat" (2000)
While Chabrol’s ‘80s and ‘90s career as a filmmaker was hit-and-miss, and often the productive filmmaker was ignored when he made an above average picture, at the ripe old age of 70, the director hit a home run at the top of the aughts with classic Chabrol-ian psychological suspense picture, “Merci, Pour Le Chocolat.” Starring well-worn muse Isabelle Huppert, famed French musician Jacques Dutronc, a young (and rather radiant) Anna Mouglais ("Coco & Igor”) and Brigitte Catillo, ‘Chocolat’ chronicled one of Chabrol’s favorite subjects: decaying family dynamics through the lens of a possible switched-at-birth scenario and a family’s deep dark secret. On her birthday, during a random lunch with her mother’s friend, Jeanne, an aspiring pianist (Mouglais), finds out that when she was born a nurse had mistakenly told prominent pianist André Polonski (Dutronc) that she was his daughter. The story and its genetic coincidence is just too juicy to ignore and so the curious Jeanne tries to track the family down. Meanwhile, this family has its own rich and complex history. "Mika" Muller (Huppert), an heiress to a Swiss chocolate factory, has just remarried André (Dutronc). During their divorce and split, André married another woman and fathered his son, Guillaume (the same boy almost switched in the hospital decades ago). After André’s wife died in a mysterious auto accident it was Mika who consoled him and helped heal his wounds. When Jeanne befriends the family through her curiosity and becomes a piano pupil, the disturbed psyche of Mika begins to uncoil, when she feels her reborn family being threatened. The film veers into thriller mode in its third act when Mika’s carefully laid plans begin to unravel, and while it might be a bit too cocoa bitter for some, there’s no denying the picture is masterfully calculated and a thoroughly entertaining ride. [B+]

"The Bridesmaid" (2004)
It all began with a smug, behind-the-back insult: protagonist Philippe chides one of his sister’s bridesmaids for constantly adopting random nicknames (now wanting to be called "Senta") only to find himself eventually smitten with lust for this eccentric female. In between his job and trying to keep his family in line, the two partake in ferocious sex, usually followed by lengthy absences and shadiness on her part, which drive Philippe looney. The man is so head-over-heels and desperate for Senta’s attention that he seems to either ignore the weirder things she says, or to humor them. This includes, unfortunately, a suggestion that they should kill a person to prove their love to one another. Chabrol‘s script (co-written with Pierre Leccia and based on Ruth Rendell’s novel) fluidly weaves various sub-plots and minor characters in and out, both fleshing out the movie’s reality and making the narrative much more satisfying by the credit roll. There’s also plenty of praise for the couple: Benoit Magimel, best known for going head-to-head with Huppert in Michael Haneke’s incredible "The Piano Teacher," gives an energetic but not showy performance; a reserved job that makes up for Chabrol’s sometimes-sketchy directorial choices (Philippe’s obsession with a garden statue of Goddess Flora is fine, but him talking to it, sleeping with it, and kissing it is mostly not). Laura Smet’s Senta is properly impenetrable, her unpredictable nature providing much of the flick’s mysteriousness though never feeling random for the sake of throwing audience members off. Though his latter-day work is spotty, "The Bridesmaid" proved that the old-timer could not just keep up with most young hot-shots, he could upstage them with relative ease. [B+]

"L’ivresse du pouvoir" (2006)
Using a ripped-from-the-headlines premise (based on the "Affaire Elf" scandal, even though the opening coda overtly claims the film to be a strict work of fiction), this late-era drama by the prolific filmmaker studies the legal prosecution of a corrupt corporate chairman, the accompanying tangled politics, and the hardened judge who sees it all through. It’s yet another pairing for Chabrol and Isabelle Huppert, this time analyzing both her character’s dedication to the case and the toll it’s taking on her life (mostly affecting the relationship with her husband, a man obviously insecure with her powerful position). As Jeanne Charmant-Killman, Huppert drills the accused suit throughout the flick, sending him to jail and digging up some serious dirt involving money and mistresses. But the mighty, invisible hand of government interferes, planting moles and even going as far as to impair Jeanne’s car brakes to prevent her from furthering the case against their wealthy cohort. These are some serious opponents, and that’s only the beginning. There are plenty of opportunities here for serious drama and thrills, but the filmmaker instead opts to play every moment casually. This works when restraint is called for, but when a character study refuses to hone in on anything, even the commanding presence of Huppert starts to lose brawn. There’s some odd sexual tension between Jeanne and her husband’s cousin which works surprisingly well, and there’s even something amusing in the bureaucrat meetings as they suck on awkwardly-long cigars to an overwrought score. Even so, the picture never feels like it’s going anywhere and all plot points feel like a trifle rather than legitimate obstacles or weight. It’s topical and competent, much like Alfred Hitchcock’s "Topaz," but it’s similarly (dare we say it) shrug-worthy. [C]

"The Girl Cut In Two" (2007)
It’s always nice to see an aging, master filmmaker — perhaps a little forgotten over the years due to simply plugging away whether his films are well-regarded or not — deliver one near-masterpiece before he calls it a day, and in 2007, with his penultimate picture, Chabrol did just that. This deliciously wicked and elusive black comedy/drama about a woman (Ludivine Sagnier) figuratively pulled apart by two men will seem unintentionally comedic if you’re unfamiliar with Chabrol’s work, but the tone is masterful — what is achieved in the end is an erotically-charged and tightly-coiled melodrama that is mordant, mischievously wry and meticulously crafted. Sagnier plays a comely local TV weather girl lusted after by two men: a famed aging author (François Berléand) and a spoiled pharmaceutical scion (Benoît Magimel). As each suitor’s ardor for the girl increases — it’s practically a wild kingdom episode with two distinctly different beasts chasing after the same prey — she ping pongs between them sexually, leading to the overentitled heir becoming psychotic in his lustful desires, which crescendos into a deliciously over-the-top finale. Boasting pathetic, despicable characters and situations replete with wry cruelty and transparent narcissism, this richly textured picture is perhaps a modern day “Dangerous Liaisons” and an unforgettable commentary (and satire) on class, lust and the malice of love. [A-]

"Inspector Bellamy" (2009)
Speculation runs rampant any time a filmmaker passes on around the time their latest (and then posthumous) work is released. Is this really their best effort? Was it at all affected by the degradation of health? How satisfied were they with the cut before it was too late? It’s not exactly the most respectful eye to cast, but it’s generally unavoidable. So here we are with the final offering by the French top dog of mystery. Unfortunately, he’s unable to muster up anything remotely enticing here despite his track record with the genre and the presence of Gerard Depardieu. The titular gumshoe, well-renowned in Paris, goes on holiday with his wife (Marie Bunel) but quickly finds himself wrapped up in a murder case involving a man who possibly faked his own death and hides under extensive plastic surgery. If it sounds contrived, it is. Chabrol, however, is the kind of director that could potentially elevate the second-rate material, but here he coasts along without any energy or finesse. The same can be said for Depardieu, who lumbers around and makes skeevy passes at his wife (at one point, they’re talking in bed and he non-chalantly grabs her boob while talking to her). What could’ve been played as a comfortable marriage only feels enormously perverted, alienating and distracting. Things get worse when Bellamy’s deadbeat half-brother arrives, introducing redundant sibling bickering that only ever feels cartoonish. Eventually the protagonist suspects adultery between his wife and brother, and although few things are more cliched than that, it successfully builds off his trouble with the case and marries the two plots perfectly. However, the suspicion comes too late and is resolved with a slap in the face (and never mentioned again), thus destroying the only smidge of life "Inspector Bellamy" ever held. It’s without a doubt a very competent film and by no means a disaster, but it contains few worthwhile ideas and almost no soul. To top it off, it’s just not very entertaining. [C-]

And The Rest… With such a prolific career, we were never going to be able to cover everything, so we’ve kept it to a not-so-lean seventeen. But for anyone who gets hooked on the films above, there’s plenty more to look at. 1959’s "Web of Passion" was his first thriller and starred the great Jean-Paul Belmondo, while "Wise Guys" in 1961 and "The Third Lover" in 1962 followed not long after. 1963’s "Ophelia," was a change of pace, an adaptation of "Hamlet," while "Bluebeard" the following year saw him take on the classic Gallic fairytale (as recently made by Catherine Breillat). These were followed by a trio of near-pulpy Bond-aping spy films, "Le Tigre aime la chair fraiche" and "Le tigre se parfume a la dynamite," which starred Roger Hanin as the titular Tiger, and "Marie-Chantal contre le docteur Kha."

1966 brought a very different kind of espionage picture, the World War II-set "Line of Demarcation," and in the following year Chabrol borrowed Anthony Perkins from Hitchcock for the more familiar "The Champagne Murders" before going back into spy territory for "Who’s Got the Black Box?". "The Beast Must Die" is a revenge thriller, based on a novel by Cecil Day-Lewis (the father of Daniel), while 1971’s racy "Just Before Nighfall" is particularly well-regarded, and won Stéphane Audran a BAFTA for Best Actress. In the same year, he worked with Perkins again, as well as Orson Welles, for "Ten Days Wonder," based on the Ellery Quinn novel, before reteaming with Belmondo for the comedy "Dr. Popaul," his biggest-ever box office hit to that point.

That was swiftly followed by "Wedding In Blood" and ‘The Nada Gang," while a change of pace came with 1975’s "A Piece of Pleasure," which starred long-time screenwriter Paul Gegauff, and Gegauff’s ex-wife and daughter — a sort of proto-"Schizopolis," at least as far as the casting goes. "Innocents With Dirty Hands" was another big hit at home, (and stars Rod Steiger), while "Les Magiciens" dabbled in the supernatural, and teamed Franco Nero and Jean Rochefort. Infidelity thriller "The Twist" came in the same year, followed swiftly by "Alice ou la Derniere Fugue," and "Blood Relatives."

The 1980s started with "The Proud Ones," "Les fantomes du chapelier" and "Le sang des autres" (1984), before his 1985 Cannes entry "Chicken With Vinegar" (released in the States with the genius/awful title "Cop au Vin"). He stayed on a similar route with "Inspecteur Lavardin," "Masques" and "The Cry of the Owl," the latter based on the Patricia Highsmith novel, recently remade with Paddy Considine by Radiohead video director Jamie Thraves. The 1990s, meanwhile, began with "Jours tranquilles a Clichy" and "Docteur M," while "L’oeil de Vichy" followed "Betty." 1994’s "L’Enfer" saw Chabrol take on the unfinished film of the same name by "Les Diaboliques" director Henri-Georges Clouzot (about which an excellent documentary was made last year).

Chabrol and muse Isabelle Huppert went more light-hearted for "Rien ne va plus" in 1997, while the grim "The Color of Lies" was one of his best-reviewed films of the 1990s. Finally, 2003’s "The Flower of Evil" brought in political elements to a a very Chabrolian thriller. Not all of these are among his best, but there are very few that aren’t worth checking out to some degree.

– Samantha Chater, Rodrigo Perez, Christopher Bell, Jessica Kiang, Catherine Scott.

This Article is related to: Features and tagged , , , ,



Finally had a chance to view La Ceremonie — chilling. The juxtaposition of a bourgeois family’s banal (emotional) existence and the psychologically escalating violence of two personages of evil — both of them permitted entry but only one of them by the family — is grotesque. However, it is the sense of unease that is written all over "Sophie"’s face, from the moment she is interviewed by "Mme. Lelievre" over une tasse de the in a cafe to the tragic moment that follows a shared pot of chocolat chaud, which is unnerving to this viewer in the hours following the film’s finale.


Hats off to another traditionally superb retrospective.

The Playlist

Thanks, means a lot.


AWESOME writeup! Chabrol probably won’t get the web traffic that a Godard or Kubrick retrospective would get, but it’s articles like this that keep your blog nice and dense and nuanced. Believe me, it goes a long way!

Great great work, you guys.

The Playlist

You know, as a big Chabrol fan, that was the one film i felt was missing, had never seen and couldn’t easily find.


The beast must die was arguably his best film. Anyone who loves film should watch that film. Same goes for Le Boucher. As a big Chabrol fan, thank for you this column, I enjoyed reading it.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *