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Claude Chabrol

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of April 6

“The stories also share common thematic concerns, regarding jealousy, marital fidelity, interpersonal power dynamics, and shifting loyalties across triangular relationships – often there is a Charles and a Hélène (Audran played four different Hélènes), whose relationship is disrupted by a complicating Paul. Bourgeoisie rituals come under anthropological interrogation; domestic geography is surgically precise (dwellings, simple and palatial, are meticulously designed); and there is Chabrol’s signature delight in lingering over meals, especially at crucial junctures. Almost invariably, there is murder, always, there is guilt, the weight of which is shared by more than one character.” Jonathan Kirshner runs through the dozen films of what he dubs Chabrol’s “second wave,” from Les Biches to Innocents with Dirty Hands, to signaled the director’s return to prominence after some years of indifferent work for hire. Via David Hudson.

“Clarke may have prefigured the reaction of audiences when, with the film still two long years from completion, he described 2001’s making as “a wonderful experience streaked with agony.” It was all that, and more: a feat of sustained innovation, even improvisation, led by one of the most controlling and obsessive directors in movie history. That MGM, traditionally the stodgiest of studios, gave Kubrick the freedom to set off toward an end point even he wasn’t entirely sure of—and this was half a decade before Hollywood would make a thing of indulging visionary young directors—is almost as astonishing as the film that resulted.” Bruce Handy recounts the years of rewriting, research, and overruns that resulted in Kubrick’s 2001.

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Blu-ray / DVD: Jacques Rivette’s ‘Paris Belongs to Us’

ParisBelongsParis Belongs to Us (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD), Jacques Rivette’s 1961 debut feature, makes its U.S. home video debut in a Criterion edition, which is fitting for a founding brother of the French nouvelle vague and frankly about time for Criterion. It’s their first Rivette release and comes after Blu-ray releases of Le Pont du Nord (1981) and both versions of Out 1 (1971) from Kino Lorber. I call that a good start for the least appreciated filmmaker of that loose band of brothers (and one sister, Agnes Varda).

Familiar Rivette themes and fascinations are present from this very first feature. Anne (Betty Schneider), a small town girl in Paris for school, gets involved in a theater group led by the passionate but broke Gérard (Giani Esposito), whose rehearsals for “Pericles” have to keep finding new spaces as cast members drop out, and is introduced to vague, vast, international conspiracy by American-in-exile Philip (Daniel Crohem), a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist fleeing the blacklist and sliding into paranoia, alcoholism, and self-pity. He’s not just paranoid, he’s given up, content to lob cynical comments at pretentious parties with fellow writers and artists and then take refuge in his hovel of a room with the willing blonde Danish model next door. It’s as if he’s escaped McCarthyism convinced that it’s part of a global master plan. Anne’s older brother Pierre (François Maistre) has some connection to this group of artists, and perhaps the conspiracy itself, while Terry (Françoise Prévost), a glamorous American who lived with a Spanish composer and political activist named Juan who committed suicide before the film began, has since attached herself to Gérard and hovers around it all. The film hopscotches around Paris (some of the rehearsal spaces are marvelous little pockets hidden in the city) and the story kind of spirals in around itself.

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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.

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Blu-ray: ‘The Color of Lies’

Claude Chabrol can do a traditional murder mystery and detective procedural as well as anyone. Just see his Inspector Lavardin films (released earlier in 2014 by Cohen) or his final feature Inspector Bellamy with Gerard Depardieu (on DVD from IFC). But it’s not where his heart lies. Chabrol, who has been called “the Gallic Hitchcock,” has always been more interested in character than plot and psychology than suspense but he’s at his best when he’s working them all together. His 1998 The Color of Lies features a murder in a small seaside community in Brittany, a dogged investigator, a prime suspect who can’t seem to help from making himself look more guilty, and a whole cast of back-up suspects to keep the audience guessing, but the mystery is primarily a charged setting for a character study and social portrait of an insular community wrapped up in gossip, suspicion, and fear.

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Review: Une Partie de Plaisir / La vallee

[Originally published in Movietone News 51, August 1976]

A vaguely arty bourgeois couple experiment with sexual freedom and end by pretty thoroughly disassembling their lives as they have known them. The bored wife of a New Guinea–based diplomat leaves the capital long enough to scout up some exotic feathers for the world of haute couture, learns of a likelier source farther from civilization, and ends by disappearing into a white area on the map in quest of Paradise. Claude Chabrol directed Une Partie de plaisir and Barbet Schroeder made La Vallée but, while each film makes sense in the context of its director’s career, some broad thematic similarities suggest that Paul Gégauff, the screenwriter they claim in common, has been at least equally important in determining the nature of the finished films.

Une Partie de plaisir, in fact, may be even more Gégauff’s film than Chabrol’s: in addition to having written the script, Gégauff plays the leading role—opposite his wife Danièle—and has freely called attention to the psychodrama aspect of the whole venture. Suggesting both a visual and characterological cross between George Macready and Shepperd Strudwick, Gégauff’s protagonist is first seen introducing his wife to the pleasures of baiting a fishhook with a live crawfish and then making love to her on a rock by the sea. At one of Chabrol’s dinnertable interludes shortly after they have left this vacation site, he brings up the subject of extramarital sex—Has she indulged? Ever wanted to? How would she feel if he did?—because, well, he has, it was no big deal, and he wouldn’t mind at all if she yearned for a temporary change now and again. She’s shy, dubious, just a little wounded by both the revelation and the suggestion; but when a house party affords the opportunity not long afterward, she opts for a brief adventure with a gentle Arabian friend of a friend. The husband listens to her sounds of pleasure somewhere in the house, and tenderly looks in to be sure their child is sleeping peacefully. But life-events get away from the teacher. While still abiding by his libertarian principles—and copping friendly feels from another mutual friend in the kitchen—he begins to compete with the lover, and insults the friend that this interloping friend of a friend has brought to the next party. While she screws the Arab, the husband can’t manage to stay the course with the kitchen cuddler. And so, with increasing psychosexual complications, it goes, as the wife continues to discover her own identity and Gégauff becomes more and more desperate about—and insistent on—his male supremacy.

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DVD: Claude Chabrol Begins – ‘Le Beau Serge’ and ‘Les Cousins’

Le beau Serge and Les cousins, the first two films from Claude Chabrol, mark the official birth of the French nouvelle vague. The two confident, mature dramas don’t have the stylistic flash or narrative invention of the more famous works by Godard and Truffaut that followed, but that was always the way with Chabrol, the classicist of the “Cahiers du Cinema ” crowd.

Gérard Blain and Jean-Claude Brialy in “Le beau Serge”

Where Truffaut added autobiography, enthusiasm and a palpable love of the act of filmmaking to his films, and Godard deconstructed filmmaking, storytelling and narrative expectations in his films, Chabrol used his camera like a microscope to study the psychology under the surface of human behavior in the Petri dish of social definitions and relationships. Alfred Hitchcock was his idol (he wrote, with fellow critic and nouvelle vague director Eric Rohmer, an early study of Hitchcock’s films) but it wasn’t the mechanics of suspense the interested him, it was the human equation: guilt, jealousy, obsession, the impulse to violence and crime and vengeance, the deflation of regret and loss. It all begins with these two features, which predated Truffaut’s The 400 Blows by mere months. True to form, they quietly established the arrival of a new talent, while Truffaut and Godard (with Breathless) caused a seismic shift.

The two films are like a match set of city mouse/country mouse tales, the first set in the dying community of a rural village (Sardent, Chabrol’s own hometown), the second in the decadent bohemian student society of Paris, with Gérard Blain and Jean-Claude Brialy as the provincial and the sophisticate (respectively) in both films.

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Claude Chabrol: The Good, the Bad and The Ugly on DVD

Claude Chabrol, the most doggedly prolific of the New Wave directors all the the through the to the final months of his life, died less than a year ago. To this day it’s as if we take him for granted.

Terrible disc and misspelled cover

Where we have deluxe, lovingly-restored and mastered editions of the films Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Eric Rohmer, Alain Resnais, Agnes Varda and Louis Malle from Criterion, few of Chabrol’s classics have received even nominally respectable treatment on DVD (mostly from Kino and the defunct Home Vision label), many of his greatest films have been relegated to inferior DVD editions (See my survey of Chabrol on DVD, circa 2009, in this feature on Parallax View) and not a single title has been given the Criterion treatment. That is finally going to change, I’m happy to report, but that comes later. First comes a brief report on the stateside DVD debuts of two seventies Chabrol films from Pathfinder.

Pathfinder’s release of Juste Avant la Nuit (aka Just Before Nightfall, 1971), misspelled on the cover as “Avante,” and The Twist (aka Folies Bourgeoises, 1976) are among the worst-looking DVDs I’ve seen in the past few years. It looks like someone burned their old VHS tapes onto a DVD-R and tossed it out onto the marketplace. Juste Avant la Nuit, a thriller of infidelity and sexual games starring Stephane Audran and Michel Bouquet, looks like a TV print in the old Academy ratio (1.37:1), blurry and hazy and as low-fidelity as I’ve seen on DVD in recent years. The Twist, an English-language satire with Bruce Dern and Ann-Margret joining French actors Audran and Jean-Pierre Cassel, is even worse, a non-anamorphic widescreen presentation of one of Chabrol’s weakest movies. Zooming the film to fill a widescreen TV only magnifies the limitations in the already weak image quality and the optional French-language soundtrack offers no English subtitles.

Even Chabrol completists will want to think twice about adding these disc to their collection, but apart from importing foreign DVDs with only marginally better presentations, these are the only versions available at this time.

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Chabrol, Noe and more from abroad – DVDs of the Week

Inspector Bellamy (IFC)

The final film by Claude Chabrol, the savvy nouvelle vague director who earned himself the sobriquet “the Gallic Hitchcock” for the psychologically compelling, emotionally jagged mysteries and thrillers that highlight his long (and sometimes rocky) career, may not be one of his great works, but there are major pleasure to be had in the minor production from an old master.

Gerard Depardieu is Inspector Bellamy

Hard to believe that in a career of some eighty features, shorts pieces and television films, this is the first time Chabrol worked with Gerard Depardieu, who stars as the titular Bellamy, a veteran police detective and minor celebrity thanks to his memoir. He’s ostensibly on vacation with his wife Francoise (Marie Bunel), but as she observes, “Vacation is not in his vocabulary.” He adores her and she understands him and merely makes wry remarks as he drifts into a curious mystery involving an overtly enigmatic man (Jacques Gamblin) in hiding and the wreckage (physical and emotional) of what appears to be a botched attempt at faking his death. As Bellamy drifts through the orbit of a missing embezzler, pulling at strands that the local police seem unable to grab to understand the real story behind a seemingly simple case of homicide, his ne’er-do-well brother Jacques (Clovis Cornillac) blows into town with a new investment scheme and the same old shenanigans and jealousies that start them going around and around like scrapping boys.

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Claude Chabrol 1930 – 2010

Claude Chabrol
Claude Chabrol

Claude Chabrol, one of the prime movers of the French New Wave—and one of the most prolific directors in France—died on Sunday, September 12 in Paris, at the age of 80.

Dave Kehr’s obituary is at The New York Times here and David Hudson is collecting remembrances and essays at the Mubi Notebook. Catherine Grant has collected a wealth of resources at Film Studies for Free and you can revisit the essays and appreciations published during the 2009 Claude Chabrol Blogathon hosted by Flickhead.

Parallax View contributed a few pieces for the Blogathon, which we spotlight in remembrance of Chabrol. By way of introduction, I quote Richard T. Jameson’s essay:

Claude Chabrol was one of the “young Turk” critics-turned-filmmakers who constituted the New Wave of French cinema at the turn of the ’60s. At the time, he ran a distant third to the iconoclastic, theoretical Jean-Luc Godard and the warm-hearted, soaringly lyrical François Truffaut. But in the late ’60s, Chabrol emerged as a magisterially accomplished classicist, with an unbroken string of masterpieces that established him as one of the world’s finest directors. He has managed to remain commercially viable—indeed, awesomely prolific—over the ensuing decades, while pursuing his own distinctive, coolly detached vision of life and cinema.

Claude Chabrol – The Classicist by Richard T. Jameson
Claude Chabrol on DVD by Sean Axmaker
La Femme Infidele by Richard T. Jameson

And leave you with a short piece by Chabrol not on any compilation we know of: a commercial for Winston cigarettes directed as an American detective noir, in English, with a Bogie drawl and French subtitles. Salut, M. Chabrol!