Saturday, June 27, 2009

3 X Chabrol

“Les Bonnes Femmes” 1960
“Le Boucher”1970
“Une Affaire de Femmes” 1988
I must have seen Claude Chabrol’s films over the years, yet none comes immediately to mind (that probably says more about my mind than Chabrol’s oeuvre). But in the space of a week, I watched three—and was suitably impressed.
"Les Bonnes Femmes" follows four shop girls, their aspirations, the reality of their rather drab lives. Each, of course, has a different story: Ginette (the sublime Stephane Audran) has a secret, not dark but pleasantly surprising; Rita has a fiancé from a stodgy bourgeois family; Jane’s got a boyfriend in the army—but she happily strays; and Jacqueline has a mysterious admirer whose infatuation borders on stalking. The film seems a bit aimless at times (how the little electronics shop stays in business is perhaps the film’s biggest mystery). But Chabrol draws you into their lives. The ending is unexpected, shocking, sad. Ces’t la vie, Chabrol seems to be saying.
“Le Boucher” enters into Hitchcock territory, then seems to lose interest in the suspense and turns into a psychological study of its main characters. Stephane Audran is back, this time as the attractive head of a grammar school in a lovely village in the Perigord. The local butcher returns after a long stint in the army, including action in Vietnam. Young women are murdered. The butcher loves the teacher—and she may love him in return. But is he the killer? The ending leaves questions, not so much about the butcher as the teacher.
“Une Affaire de Femmes” is based on the true story of the last women guillotined in France. Isabelle Huppert plays Marie, an unhappy wife during the Nazi occupation. She has no money, and her husband is a loser. In a more conventional film, Marie would assist the Resistance, or start a bakery and use the profits to help unfortunates. Marie instead finds a talent for performing abortions. Business thrives, and she expands to renting out space in her apartments to hookers (the apartments grow in tandem with her profits). She cuckolds her husband, who betrays her. She is arrested, sentenced to die after the French legal establishment (all male) decides she must be held up to the country as a woman punished for her sins. Huppert is excellent playing an often unpleasant woman who never thought the blade would fall. But it does.


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