Review: Wedding in Blood

[Originally published in Movietone News 37, November 1974]

Claude Chabrol’s self-consciously amused but ominous portrayals of the foibles of les petits bourgeois, aside from reminding us of the director’s acute filmic awareness indicate an atmosphere which borders on a kind of noir fantasy. Like Luis Buñuel (especially in his later films), Chabrol is ambiguous in the concessions he makes to reality. He may look, sometimes very closely, at real things—setting many of his scenes in a natural environment, even taking from a true account in a French newspaper his story of a man who murders his wife and his lover’s husband (not that there is anything unfamiliar about that tale)—but there is seldom anything “natural” about what we see. The sun is blindingly bright in some of the exteriors; the white mist on a lake behind Pierre and Lucienne flattens the space within the frame, as though they were standing in front of a blank canvas.

Even the rain on the windshield of Pierre’s car as he and Lucienne drive home through a blurred autumn landscape (she is sobbing hysterically following her husband Paul’s morbid flippancy in sanctioning her affair with Pierre) seems more like some kind of thick viscous resin than water; it comes down so hard that the windshield wipers can barely slosh it away with one stroke before the glass is covered with another sheet of it. The rain obscures everything outside the car, confining us to the cramped interior and Lucienne’s convulsive outburst. Other, seemingly innocuous sequences begin to resound with vibrations, the reasons for which—and the presence of which—are not always easy to account for. As Pierre and Lucienne make love on the bank of a river, a raft carrying three boys appears from around the bend. Pierre grabs madly at their clothes and pulls them back into the bushes. There is a shot looking over the shoulders of the couple as they watch the boys out on the river. That’s it. Nothing seems especially remarkable about the sequence in terms of dramatic suspense (so what if the kids do spot them?) but somehow Chabrol manages to infuse it with a good deal of psychological tension.

Of note is the way that the movie “soundtrack” music turns up again on the radio in Pierre’s car as he drives toward a rendezvous in the country with Lucienne, insinuating itself into the out-of-kilter world inhabited by these . All of a sudden that music has become a part of Pierre’s and the movie’s internal reality, fading and rising in proportion to the camera’s nearness to the automobile. What is going on here? Maybe there’s more Buñuel lurking in Chabrol’s film than one is prepared to admit at first. Just as those carriage bells in Belle de Jour signal our entrance into fantasy, so Chabrol’s music, turning up as it does within the screen reality of the fictional characters, acts as an index to the viewer’s willingness to enter Chabrol’s vision imaginatively. And although I wouldn’t venture a guess whether Chabrol had Buñuel in mind when he ended his movie (it would give rise to some neat resonances if he did), I couldn’t help noticing that both directors make use of conventional cinematic signals involving hands. The positions of Jean Sorel’s hand in two neighboring shots at the end of Buñuel’s film signal, respectively, death and resurrection. Chabrol’s last shot captures a darkly comic hopelessness in the clasped, shackled hands of Pierre and Lucienne. Both terminal or near-terminal gestures provide punctuation to motifs that have been moving under the surfaces of the films. But whereas Buñuel goes the limit with a fantasy context in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (one dream enclosing another in an infinite succession of unrealities), Chabrol’s suggestion of a dream-orientation is more obscure. This is not to say that Chabrol’s manner of shooting and editing his films is confusing; just that his visual and sound motifs are often consistent without implying any special significance. And that is what makes it difficult to determine what Wedding in Blood finally adds up to.

© 1974 Rick Hermann

WEDDING IN BLOOD (Les Noces rouges)
Screenplay and Direction: Claude Chabrol. Cinematography: Jean Rabier. Editing: Jacques and Monique Gaillard. Music: Pierre Jansen.
The Players: Stéphane Audran, Michel Piccoli, Claude Piéplu, Clotilde Joano, Daniel Lecourtis.