In the 1960s and early ’70s, Claude Chabrol was celebrated as the Gallic Hitchcock for his crisp, character-rich thrillers. La Cérémonie, his 1997 hit adapted from Ruth Rendell’s novel A Judgement in Stone, is a return to form, an assured domestic drama set in the upper-class household of the kind but condescending Lelievres family. Sandrine Bonnaire, excellent in an enigmatic, uncommunicative role, stars as their new, neurotically silent maid Sophie. She performs her duties efficiently and emotionlessly, staring out from behind an implacable, mask-like face born of loneliness and defensiveness. Isabelle Huppert is the town’s gleefully misanthropic postmistress Jeanne, a gossipy, energetically insolent misfit who hates the Lelievres. When she becomes Sophie’s best friend, her pathological game of taunts and gossip goes into overdrive with her sudden access to their house, and an already simmering class conflict boils over in unleashed anger. Chabrol charts the cascade of mischief and misunderstandings to its shattering conclusion, with a sensitivity to character and an eagle-eyed remove that makes the explosive climax all the more chilling. Continue reading
When the young Jeanne finds out that she could have mistakenly been exchanged, from her cradle, with another newborn (the son of a famous piano player), she decides to contact this family, not really thinking that this could be the truth. After she tells this to the presumed father and the rest of the family, even the son of the piano player starts having more than one doubt about his origins, and all this will lead to the discovery of a murder committed many years before by the second wife of the musician. The story is a pretext to dramatize the misdeeds and the hypocrisy of the French upper class members, shown without pity: the coldness between the family members, hidden by a false happiness; the lack of real feelings; the unbearable ‘bon ton’ of the mother, and so on. (IMDb) Continue reading
In Les cousins, Claude Chabrol crafts a sly moral fable about a provincial boy who comes to live with his sophisticated bohemian cousin in Paris. Through these seeming opposites, Chabrol conjures a darkly comic character study that questions notions of good and evil, love and jealousy, and success in the modern world. A mirror image of Le beau Serge, Chabrol’s debut, Les cousins recasts that film’s stars, Jean-Claude Brialy and Gérard Blain, in startlingly reversed roles. This dagger-sharp drama won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and was an important early entry in the French New Wave. (-Criterion) Continue reading
inette, Rita, Jacqueline and Jane try to find fulfillment and love in their lives. Rita has a fiancé whose family is obsessed with social distinction; Jane has a boy-friend in the army, but does not hesitate to enjoy herself with chance encounters; Ginette has a mysterious passion that keeps her away from her colleagues at nights. Jacqueline is lonely; but who is that mysterious bike-rider who is constantly following her? Continue reading
Of the hallowed group of Cahiers du cinéma critics turned filmmakers who transformed French film history, Claude Chabrol was the first to direct his own feature. His absorbing landmark debut, Le beau Serge, follows a successful yet sickly young man (Jean-Claude Brialy) who returns home to the small village where he grew up. There, he finds himself at odds with his former close friend (Gérard Blain)—now unhappily married and a wretched alcoholic—and the provincial life he represents. The remarkable and stark Le beau Serge heralded the arrival of a cinematic titan who would go on to craft provocative, entertaining films for five more decades. (-Criterion) Continue reading
Expatriate Henry Miller indulges in a variety of sexual escapades while struggling to establish himself as a serious writer in Paris.
Making a rare visit to Canada, Claude Chabrol cowrote and directed the low-pressure psychological melodrama Blood Relatives (Les Liens de sang). Donald Sutherland and Donald Pleasence head the cast in this story of the aftermath of a brutal murder. The victim, a 17-year-old girl, was apparently raped before she died, leading Carella (Sutherland) to believe that she was killed by a sex maniac. Pedophile Doniac (Pleasence) tops the suspect list, but don’t be too sure. The truth is much “closer to home” than anyone realizes at first. Lisa Langlois, who made something of a career of Canadian scare flicks, makes her screen debut in Blood Relatives; also appearing, is Chabrol’s wife Stephane Audran. Blood Relatives was based on a novel by Ed McBain (aka Evan Hunter), of 87th Precinct fame; the film was released in the US in 1981, three years after its completion.