Nationality: French. Born: Paris, 24 June 1930. Education: University of Paris, Ecole Libre des Sciences Politiques. Family: Married 1) Agnes Goute, 1952 (divorced), two sons; 2) actress Stéphane Audran, 1964 (divorced), one son; 3) Aurore Pajot. Career: Film critic for Arts and for Cahiers du Cinéma, Paris, 1953–57 (under own name and as "Charles Eitel" and "Jean-Yves Goute"); Head of production company AJYM, 1956–61; directed first film, Le Beau Serge, 1958; director, Macbeth, Théâtre Recamier, Paris, 1967; director, French TV, 1970s. Awards: Golden Bear, Berlin Festival, for Les Cousins, 1959; D. W. Griffith Award, National Board of Review, and New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Foreign Film, for Story of Women, 1989; Metro Media Award, Toronto International Film Festival, 1995, and Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Foreign Language Film, National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Foreign Language Film, both 1996, for La cérémonie; Golden Seashell and Silver Seashell, San Sebastián International Film Festival, for Rien ne va plus, 1997. Agent: c/o VMA, 40 rue Francois 1er, 75008 Paris, France. Address: 15 Quai Conti, 75006 Paris, France.
Films as Director:
Le Beau Serge (Bitter Reunion) (+ pr, sc, bit role)
Les Cousins (The Cousins) (+ pr, sc); A double tour (Web of Passion; Leda) (+ bit role)
Les Bonnes Femmes (+ adapt, bit role)
Les Godelureaux (+ co-adapt, bit role); "L'Avarice" episode of Les Sept Péchés capitaux (The Seven Deadly Sins) (+ bit role)
L'œil du malin (The Third Lover) (+ sc); Ophélia (+ co-sc)
Landru (Bluebeard) (+ co-sc)
"L'Homme qui vendit la tour Eiffel" episode of Les Plus Belles Escroqueries du monde (The Beautiful Swindlers); Le Tigre aime la chair fraîche (The Tiger Likes Fresh Blood); La Chance et l'amour (Tavernier, Schlumberger, Bitsch, and Berry) (d linking sequences only)
"La Muette" episode of Paris vu par . . . (Six in Paris) (+ sc, role); Marie-Chantal contre le Docteur Kha (+ co-sc, bit role); Le Tigre se parfume à la dynamite (An Orchid for the Tiger) (+ bit role)
La Ligne de démarcation (Line of Demarcation) (+ co-sc)
Le Scandale (The Champagne Murders); La Route de Corinthe (Who's Got the Black Box?; The Road to Corinth) (+ role)
Les Biches (The Does; The Girlfriends; Bad Girls) (+ co-sc, role)
La Femme infidèle (Unfaithful Wife) (+ co-sc): Que la bête meure (This Man Must Die; Killer!)
Le Boucher (+ sc); La Rupture (Le Jour des parques; The Breakup) (+ sc, bit role)
Juste avant la nuit (Just before Nightfall) (+ sc)
La Décade prodigieuse (Ten Days' Wonder) (+ co-sc); Docteur Popaul (High Heels) (+ co-song); De Grey—Le Banc de Desolation (for TV)
Les Noces rouges (Wedding in Blood) (+ sc)
Nada (The NADA Gang); Histoires insolites (series of 4 TV films)
Une Partie de plaisir (A Piece of Pleasure; Pleasure Party); Les Innocents aux mains sales (Dirty Hands; Innocents with Dirty Hands) (+ sc); Les Magiciens (Initiation à la mort; Profezia di un delitto)
Folies bourgeoises (The Twist) (+ co-sc)
Alice ou La Dernière Fugue (Alice or the Last Escapade) (+ sc)
Blood Relatives (Les Liens de sang) (+ co-sc); Violette Nozière (Violette)
Le Cheval d'Orgueil (The Horse of Pride; The Proud Ones)
Les Fantômes du chapelier (The Hatmaker)
Le Sang des autres (The Blood of Others)
Poulet au vinaigre (Coq au Vin) (+ co-sc)
Inspecteur Lavardin (+co-sc)
Masques (+ co-sc)
Le cri du hibou (The Cry of the Owl)
Une Affaire des femmes (Story of Women) (+ sc)
Jours tranquilles a Clichy (Quiet Days in Clichy) (+ sc); Docteur M (Club Extinction) (+sc)
Madame Bovary (+ sc)
Bette (+sc); L'oeil de Vichy (The Eye of the Vichy) (doc)
Le ceremonie (The Ceremony); A Judgment in Stone (+ sc)
Rien ne va plus (The Swindle) (+ sc)
Au coeur du mensonge (The Color of Lies) (+ co-sc)
Merci pour le chocolat (+ co-sc)
Le Coup de berger (Rivette) (co-sc, uncred co-mu, role)
A bout de souffle (Godard) (tech adv); Les Jeux de l'amour (de Broca) (role)
Paris nour appartient (Rivette) (role); Saint-Tropez blues (Moussy) (role); Les Distractions (Dupont) (role)
Ples v dezju (Dance in the Rain) (Hladnik) (supervisor); Les Menteurs (Greville) (role)
Les Durs à cuire (Pinoteau) (role)
Brigitte et Brigitte (Moullet) (role)
Happening (Bokanowski) (tech adv); Zoe bonne (Deval) (role)
La Femme ecarlate (Valere) (role)
Et crac! (Douchet) (role); Version latine (Detre) (role); Le Travail (Detre) (role)
Sortie de secours (Kahane) (role)
Eglantine (Brialy) (tech adv); Aussi loin que l'amour (Rossif) (role)
Piège à pucelles (Leroi) (tech adv); Un Meurtre est un meurtre (Périer) (role)
Le Flipping (Volatron) (role as interviewee)
Sale destin! (Sylvain Madigan) (role)
Sam Suffit (role as Mr. Denis)
Jean Renoir (Thompson); François Truffaut: Portraits volés(François Truffaut: Stolen Portraits
Cannesples 400 coups (Nadeau—for TV) (as himself)
By CHABROL: books—
Hitchcock, with Eric Rohmer, Paris, 1957.
La Femme Infidele, Paris, 1969.
Les Noces rouges, Paris, 1973.
Et pourtant, je tourne. . . , Paris, 1976.
L'adieu aux dieux (novel), Paris, 1980.
Autour d'Emma: Madame Bovary, un film de Claude Chabrol,
By CHABROL: articles—
Regular contributor to Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), under pseudonyms "Charles Eitel" and "Jean-Yves Goute," 1950s.
"Tout ce qu'il faut savoir pour mettre en scène s'apprend en quatre heures," an interview with François Truffaut, in Arts (Paris), 19 February 1958.
"Vers un néo-romanticisme au cinéma," in Lettres Françaises (Paris), March 1959.
"Big Subjects, Little Subjects," in Movie (London), June 1962.
Interview with Gilles Jacob, in Cinéma (Paris), September/October 1966.
Articles anthologized in The New Wave, edited by Peter Graham, New York, 1968.
"La Femme Infidèle," and "La Muette," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), no. 42, 1969.
Interview with Michel Ciment and others, in Positif (Paris), April 1970.
Interview with Noah James, in Take One (Montreal), September/October 1970.
Interview with Rui Nogueira, in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1970/71.
Interview with M. Rosier and D. Serceau, in Cinéma (Paris), September/October 1973.
Interviews with G. Braucourt, in Ecran (Paris), May 1975 and February 1977.
"Chabrol's Game of Mirrors," an interview with D. Overbey, in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1977.
"The Magical Mystery World of Claude Chabrol," an interview with Dan Yakir, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), no. 3, 1979.
"I Fell in Love with Violette Nozière," in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), April 1979.
Interview with D. Simmons, in Film Directions (Belfast), vol. 5, no. 18, 1983.
Conversation with Georges Simenon, in Filmkritik (Munich), February 1983.
Interview with Jill Forbes, in Stills (London), June/July 1984.
"Jeu de massacre: Attention les yeux," an interview with Pierre Bonitzer and others, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), March 1986.
"Chabrol by Chance," an interview with Claudio Lazzaro, in WorldPress Review, October 1988.
"Entretiens avec Claude Chabrol," an interview in Cahiers duCinéma, December 1989.
"Conversazione con Claude Chabrol," an interview with P. Vernaglione, in Filmcritica, March 1989.
"Entretien avec Claude Chabrol," an interview with T. Jousse and others, in Cahiers du Cinéma, November 1990.
"Histoires de fuites," in Cahiers du Cinéma, May 1991.
"Entretien avec Claude Chabrol," an interview with T. Jousse and S. Toubiana, in Cahiers du Cinéma, March 1992.
"La Grande Manipulation," an interview with Pierre Murat and Isabelle Danel, in Télérama (Paris), 10 March 1993.
"Hell's Angel," an interview with Tom Charity, in Time Out (London), 19 October 1994.
"Oskuld, mord och en kopp te," in Chaplin (Stockholm), vol. 38, no.4, 1996.
"Chabrol's 'Ceremonie'," in Film Journal (New York), January/February 1997.
On CHABROL: books—
Armes, Roy, French Cinema since 1946: Vol.2—The Personal Style, New York, 1966.
Wood, Robin, and Michael Walker, Claude Chabrol, London, 1970.
Braucourt, Guy, Claude Chabrol, Paris, 1971.
Monaco, James, The New Wave, New York, 1976.
Moscariello, Angelo, Chabrol, Firenze, 1976.
Grongaard, Peter, Chabrols Filmkunst, Kobenhavn, 1977.
Magny, Joel, Claude Chabrol, Paris, 1987.
Derry, Charles, The Suspense Thriller: Films in the Shadow of AlfredHitchcock, Jefferson, North Carolina, 1988.
Blanchet, Christian, Claude Chabrol, Paris, 1989.
Austin, Guy, Claude Chabrol, Autoportrait, Manchester, 1999.
On CHABROL: articles—
"New Wave" issue of Cinéma (Paris), February 1960.
"Chabrol Issue" of Movie (London), June 1963.
Gow, Gordon, "The Films of Claude Chabrol," in Films and Filming (London), March 1967.
Baxter, Brian, "Claude Chabrol," in Film (London), Spring 1969.
"Chabrol Issue" of L'Avant-scène du Cinéma (Paris), May 1969.
Wood, Robin, "Chabrol and Truffaut," in Movie (London), Winter 1969/70.
Allen, Don, "Claude Chabrol," in Screen (London), February 1970.
Milne, Tom, "Chabrol's Schizophrenic Spider," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1970.
Haskell, Molly, "The Films of Chabrol—A Priest among Clowns," in Village Voice (New York), 12 November 1970.
Milne, Tom, "Songs of Innocence," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1970/71.
Bucher, F., and Peter Cowie, "Welles and Chabrol," in Sight andSound (London), Autumn 1971.
"Chabrol Issue" of Filmcritica (Rome), April/May 1972.
Cornand, A., "Les Noces rouges, Chabrol et la censure," in Image etSon (Paris), April 1973.
Appel, A. Jr., "The Eyehole of Knowledge," in Film Comment (New York), May/June 1973.
"Chabrol Issue" of Image et Son (Paris), December 1973.
Dawson, Jan, "The Continental Divide," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1973/74.
Le Fanu, Mark, "The Cinema of Irony: Chabrol, Truffaut in the 1970s," in Monogram (London), no. 5, 1974.
Walker, M., "Claude Chabrol into the '70s," in Movie (London), Spring 1975.
Fassbinder, Rainer Werner, "Insects in a Glass Case: Random Thoughts on Claude Chabrol," in Sight and Sound (London), no.4, 1976.
Harcourt, P., "Middle Chabrol," in Film Comment (New York), November/December 1976.
Poague, Leland, "The Great God Orson: Chabrol's '10 Days' Wonder," in Film Criticism (Edinboro, Pennsylvania), no. 3, 1979.
Jenkins, Steve, "And the Chabrol We Haven't Seen. . . ," in MonthlyFilm Bulletin (London), July 1982.
Dossier on Chabrol, in Cinématographe (Paris), September 1982.
Bergan, Ronald, "Directors of the Decade—Claude Chabrol," in Films and Filming (London), December 1983.
"Chabrol Section" of Revue du Cinéma (Paris), May 1985.
Monthly Film Bulletin (London), August 1987.
Auld, Deborah, "I, Claude," in Village Voice, 8 August 1989.
Haberman, C., "Chabrol Films a Henry Miller Tale," in New YorkTimes, 9 August 1989.
Pally, Marcia, "Women's Business," in Film Comment, September/October 1989.
Bohlen, C., "Chabrol Offers a Cool-eyed Look at a Stormy Issue," in New York Times, 15 October 1989.
Fisher, William, "Occupational Hazards," in Harper's Bazaar, November 1989.
Borde, R., "Claude Chabrol," in La Revue de la Cinematheque, December/January 1989/90.
Gristwood, Sarah, "Mabuse Returns: Chabrol Pays His Respects," in Sight and Sound, Spring 1990.
Mayne, Richard, "Still Waving, Not Drowning," in Sight and Sound, Summer 1990.
Riding, A., "Flaubert Does Hollywood—Again," in New YorkTimes, 13 January 1991.
Chase, Donald, "A Day in the Country," in Film Comment, November/December 1991.
Vaucher, Andrea R., "Madame Bovary, C'est Moi!" in AmericanFilm, September/October 1991.
Roth, Michael, "L'oeil de Vichy," in American Historical Review, October 1994.
Frodon, Jean-Michel, "Chabrol's Class Act," in London GuardianWeekly, 17 September 1995.
Diana, M., "Una commedia borghese," in Segnocinema (Vicenza), July-August 1996.
Feinstein, H., "Killer Instincts," in Village Voice, 24 December 1996.
Kibar, O., "En seremoniell obduksjon," in Film and Kino (Oslo), no. 3, 1996.
Signorelli, A., "A Firenze la 'sorpresa' Chabrol," in Cineforum (Bergamo), January/February 1996.
On CHABROL: film—
Yentob, Alan, Getting Away with Murder, or The Childhood ofClaude Chabrol, for BBC-TV, London, 1978.
* * *
If Jean-Luc Godard appeals to critics because of his extreme interest in politics and film theory, if François Truffaut appeals to the popular audience because of his humanism and sentimentality, it is Claude Chabrol—film critic, filmmaker, philosopher—whose work consistently offers the opportunity for the most balanced appeal. His partisans find especially notable the subtle tone of Chabrol's cinema: his films are apparently cold and objective portraits of profoundly psychological situations; and yet that coldness never approaches the kind of fashionable cynicism, say, of a Stanley Kubrick, but suggests, rather, something closer to the viewpoint of a god who, with compassion but without sentiment, observes the follies of his creations.
Chabrol's work can perhaps best be seen as a cross between the unassuming and popular genre film and the pretentious and elitist art film: Chabrol's films tend to be thrillers with an incredibly self-conscious, self-assured style—that is, pretentious melodrama, aware of its importance. For some, however, the hybrid character of Chabrol's work is itself a problem: indeed, just as elitist critics sometimes find Chabrol's subject matter beneath them, so too do popular audiences sometimes find Chabrol's style and incredibly slow pace alienating.
Chabrol's films are filled with allusions and references to myth (as in La rupture, which begins with an epigraph from Racine's Phaedra: "What an utter darkness suddenly surrounds me!"). The narratives of his films are developed through a sensuousness of decor, a gradual accumulation of psychological insight, an absolute mastery of camera movement, and the inclusion of objects and images—beautiful and evocative, like the river in Le boucher or the lighthouse in Dirty Hands—which are imbued with symbolic intensity. Like Balzac, whom he admires, Chabrol attempts, within a popular form, to present a portrait of his society in microcosm.
Chabrol began his career as a critic for Cahiers du Cinéma. With Eric Rohmer, he wrote a groundbreaking book-length study of Alfred Hitchcock, and with his friends (Truffaut, Godard, Rohmer, Jacques Rivette, and others) he attempted to turn topsy-turvy the entire cinematic value system. That their theories of authorship remain today a basic (albeit modified and continuously examined) premise certainly indicates the success of their endeavor. Before long, Chabrol found himself functioning as financial consultant and producer for a variety of films inaugurating the directorial careers of his fellow critics who, like himself, were no longer content merely to theorize.
Chabrol's career can perhaps be divided into five semi-discrete periods: 1) the early personal films, beginning with Le beau Serge in 1958 and continuing through Landru in 1962; 2) the commercial assignments, beginning with The Tiger Likes Fresh Blood in 1964 and continuing through The Road to Corinth in 1967; 3) the mature cycle of masterpieces, beginning with Les biches in 1968 and continuing through Wedding in Blood in 1973, almost all starring his wife Stéphane Audran, and produced by André Génovès; 4) the more diverse (and uneven) accumulations of films from 1974 to the mid-1980s which have tended neither to garner automatic international release nor to feature Audran in a central role; and 5) the more recent films of higher quality, if sometimes uneven still, produced in the 1980s and 1990s by Marin Karmitz's company MK2 and including a new set of regular collaborators.
If Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt, as analyzed by Chabrol and Rohmer, is constructed upon an exchange of guilt, Chabrol's first film, Le beau Serge, modeled after it, is constructed upon an exchange of redemption. Chabrol followed Le beau Serge, in which a city-dweller visits a country friend, with Les cousins, in which a country-dweller visits a city friend. Most notably, Les cousins offers Chabrol's first "Charles" and "Paul," the names Chabrol would continue to use throughout much of his career—Charles to represent the more serious bourgeois man, Paul the more hedonistic id-figure. A double tour, Chabrol's first color film, is especially notable for its striking cinematography, its complex narrative structure, and the exuberance of its flamboyant style; it represents Chabrol's first studied attempt to examine and criticize the moral values of the bourgeoisie as well as to dissect the sociopsychological causes of the violence which inevitably erupts as the social and family structures prove inadequate. Perhaps the most wholly successful film of this period is the infrequently screened L'œil du malin, which presents the most typical Chabrol situation: a triangle consisting of a bourgeois married couple—Hélène and her stolid husband—and the outsider whose involvement with the couple ultimately leads to violence and tragedy. Here can be found Chabrol's first "Hélène," the recurring beautiful and slightly aloof woman, generally played by Stéphane Audran.
When these and other personal films failed to ignite the box office, despite often positive critical responses, Chabrol embarked on a series of primarily commercial assignments (such as Marie-Chantal contre le Docteur Kha), during which his career went into a considerable critical eclipse. Today, however, even these fairly inconsequential films seem to reflect a fetching style and some typically quirky Chabrolian concerns.
Chabrol's breakthrough occurred in 1968 with the release of Les biches, an elegant thriller in which an outsider, Paul, disrupts the lesbian relationship between two women. All of Chabrol's films in this period are slow psychological thrillers which tend basically to represent variations upon the same theme: an outsider affecting a central relationship until violence results. In La femme infidèle, one of Chabrol's most self-assured films, the marriage of Hélène and Charles is disrupted when Charles kills Hélène's lover. In the Jansenist Que la bête meure, Charles tracks down the unremittingly evil hitand-run killer of his young son, and while doing so disrupts the relationship between the killer, Paul, and his sister-in-law Hélène. In Le boucher, the butcher Popaul, who is perhaps a homicidal killer, attempts a relationship with a cool and frigid schoolteacher, Hélène, who has displaced her sexual energies onto her teaching of her young pupils, particularly onto one who is conspicuously given the name Charles.
In the extravagantly expressive La rupture, the outsider Paul attempts a plot against Hélène in order to secure a better divorce settlement, desired by the rich parents of her husband Charles, who has turned to drug addiction to escape his repressive bourgeois existence. In Juste avant la nuit, it is Charles who has taken a lover, and Charles's wife Hélène who must ultimately resort to an act of calculated violence in order to keep the bourgeois surface intact. In the detective variation Ten Days' Wonder, the relationship between Charles and Hélène is disrupted by the intervention of a character named Théo (Theos, representing God), whose false image must be unmasked by the outsider Paul. And in Wedding in Blood, based on factual material, it is the wife and her lover who team together to plot against her husband.
Jean Renoir said that all great directors make the same film over and over; perhaps no one has taken this dictum as seriously as Chabrol; indeed, all these films represent a kind of formal geometry as Charles, Hélène, and Paul play out their fated roles in a universe strongly influenced by Fritz Lang, the structures of their bourgeois existence unable to contain their previously repressed passions. Noteworthy too is the consistency of collaboration on these films: usually with Stéphane Audran, Michel Bouquet, and Jean Yanne as performers; Jean Rabier as cinematographer; Paul Gégauff as co-scriptwriter; André Génovès as producer; Guy Littaye as art director; Pierre Jansen as composer; Jacques Gaillard as editor; Guy Chichignoud on sound.
In the late 1970s and 1980s, Chabrol has increasingly explored different kinds of financing, making television films as well as international co-productions. Some of these interesting films seem quite unusual from what he has attempted before, perhaps the most surprising being Le cheval d'orgueil, an ethnographic drama chronicling the simplicity and terrible harshness of peasant life in Brittany prior to World War I with a straightforwardness and lack of sentimentality which is often riveting. Indeed, the film seems so different from much of Chabrol's work that it forces a kind of re-evaluation of his career, making him seem less an emulator of Hitchcock and more an emulator of Balzac, attempting to create his own Comédie humaine in a panoramic account of the society about him.
Meanwhile, without his regular collaborators, most notably Stéphane Audran, Chabrol has had to establish a new "team"—now including his son, Matthieu Chabrol, as composer replacing the superior Pierre Jansen. Although the series of films directed for producer Marin Karmitz seems laudable and superior to Chabrol's non-Karmitz films of the 1980s and 1990s, with three exceptions they do not match the unity or quality of Chabrol's earlier masterpieces.
One of the exceptions is Une affaire des femmes, starring Isabelle Huppert (who had previously starred in Violette Nozière). The story of an abortionist who ends up the last female guillotined in France (by the Vichy government), Une affaire des femmes, unlike the majority of Chabrol's recent films, received international distribution as well as a variety of awards and critical recognition. Chabrol's achievement here is extraordinary: offering a complex three-dimensional portrait of a woman who is not really very likeable, Une affaire des femmes turns out, by its end, to be the most fair, progressive, passionate film ever made about abortion, dissecting the sexual politics of the "crime" without ever resorting to polemics; and Chabrol's unswerving gaze becomes the regard of an all-knowing God. Madame Bovary, again with Huppert, is perhaps one notch below in quality: but is it surprising that Chabrol turns Madame Bovary into one of his tragic bourgeois love triangles, only this time with the protagonist named Emma, rather than Hélène? Also impressive—and perhaps Chabrol's last masterpiece—is the 1995 film La cérémonie, again with Huppert. Released several years after the fall of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites, La cérémonie (which was based on the thriller A Judgement in Stone written by Ruth Rendell) was characterized by its director as "the last Marxist film" and presents a polite, likable, stylish, bourgeois French family who is ultimately dispatched by the help. That those who are supposed to provide service should instead gradually institute chaos and revolution within a well-appointed home redolent of privilege and maners, creates an atmosphere of slowly sustaining tension and violent inevitability; that "la cérémonie" is also the French term for the ritual of the guillotine makes Chabrol's sly ideological point all the clearer. Notably, La cérémonie was moderately successful in the United States (unusual for Chabrol), winning significant box office as well as the best foreign film citation from the National Society of Film Critics. The success of Une affaire des femmes, Madame Bovary, and La cérémonie, as well as the earlier Violette Nozière (all four starring Isabelle Huppert), may indicate that Chabrol's films—cold as an inherent result of the director's personality and formal interests—may absolutely require an extraordinary, expressive female presence in order to contribute a human, empathic dimension—else they seem slow, tedious exercises. Clearly, Stéphane Audran's contributions to Chabrol's earlier masterpieces—both as fellow artist and muse—may have been seriously underestimated.
More typical of Chabrol's recent career are films like Les Fantômes du Chapelier, Poulet au vinaigre, Inspecteur Lavardin, Masques, Le cri du hibou, and Rien ne va plus, which, though worthy of note, by no means measure up to Chabrol's greatest and therefore disappoint. What becomes indisputably clear is that Chabrol is one of the most uneven great directors; and without a producer like André Génovès and forceful, talented collaborators on Chabrol's wavelength, Chabrol can sometimes make bad or very odd movies. The 1976 Folies bourgeoises, for instance, is all but unwatchable, and while Docteur M and Betty may have interesting concepts, one is a dreary reinterpretation of Fritz Lang, and the other a lifeless adaptation of a Simenon novel, containing a wooden performance by Marie Trintignant. L'enfer (directed in 1994) is certainly better, if still minor—a smoldering tale of growing jealousy based on the unproduced script of a master director with a somewhat kindred soul, Henri-Georges Clouzot. Nevertheless, the true cinephile loves Chabrol despite his failures—because in the midst of his overprodigious output, he can change gears and make a fascinating documentary, such as his 1993 L'œil de Vichy (which compiles French film propaganda in service of the Nazi cause), or can surprise everyone with a major, narrative film of startling ideas and unity, such as his 1995 La cérémonie, suddenly again at the very top of his form, a New Wave exemplar for filmmakers everywhere. One hopes for at least one more definitive Claude Chabrol masterpiece.
French filmmaker Claude Chabrol (born 1930) has long been regarded as a master of the suspense genre, and he was a founding father of the French nouvelle vague (French New Wave) film movement.
Few film directors have amassed such a large body of work as has Chabrol, who has averaged about a film a year over five decades beginning in the 1950s. Over his long career he has frequently focused on ordinary settings and favored emotionally detached characters, crafting classic French psychological thrillers with an underlying element of social critique.
Ran Wartime “Cinema”
Born on June 24, 1930, in Paris, Chabrol had his adolescence shaped by the German occupation of France during World War II. He and his family were forced to move from Paris to the village of Sardent in the Creuse départment in central France. With an uncle who owned a chain of movie theaters, Chabrol was attracted to film from the start. He and some friends set up a homemade cinema in a barn, showing whatever movies they could get their hands on under Nazi restrictions.
Chabrol's parents expressed their disapproval toward his growing interest in film. Chabrol told Peter Lennon of the London Guardian, “My mother explained that the cinema was full of homosexuals. As far as I was concerned, either I was a homosexual or I wasn't, so making films would change nothing.” His father, a pharmacist, convinced him to attend the Sorbonne university. Chabrol studied medicine and law, but eventually he left school altogether. He was offered a teaching job and turned it down—in favor, he told Lennon, of “an infernal life of drink and skirt-chasing.”
At age 22, Chabrol developed a bad case of chicken pox and went to Switzerland to recover. While there, he ended up falling in love and marrying his first wife, Agnes Goute; the marriage produced two children but later ended in divorce. As his wife had a lot of money, Chabrol did not have to worry about finding work. Instead, he spent his days going to the burgeoning postwar cinema clubs, where he met filmmakers Franois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, and Eric Rohmer. They invited him to write film criticism for Cahiers du Cinéma, the groundbreaking magazine of the French New Wave. Chabrol later teamed with Rohmer to write a comprehensive book on Alfred Hitchcock, who became one of Chabrol's major cinematic influences, and to whom he has often been compared.
Chabrol also worked as an advisor on Godard's 1960 feature debut A bout de soufflé (Breathless), one of the bestknown films of the French New Wave. Chabrol's roles as a writer and advisor led him into work as a producer; after working with the public relations office of 20th Century Fox in France, Chabrol took charge of AJYM, the production company responsible for his first works as a director. When Chabrol heard that fellow Cahiers writer Roberto Rossellini wanted to help young filmmakers, Chabrol sent him a short script. Rossellini turned it down, but Chabrol made the film anyway. His 1958 directorial debut, Le beau Serge (Handsome Serge), was financed with money from his wife's recent inheritance.
Won Prize with Debut
Chabrol returned to his childhood village of Sardent to shoot the film, a simple story about a young man (Jean-Claude Brialy) who returns to his hometown to find that his old friend (Gérard Blain) has become an alcoholic. The film ended up winning the prestigious Prix Jean Vigo, providing enough prize money for Chabrol to begin work on his next film, Les cousins (1959). Teaming again with Brialy and Blain, Chabrol began using the character names of Charles and Paul, which he would continue to re-use over the next decade to describe a pair of contrasting characters. Often Paul was the name for the troubled or isolated loner, while Charles was the conventional middle-class family man. Les cousins won an even more prestigious prize: the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin International Film Festival.
In his next project, 1960's Les bonnes femmes (The Good Girls), Chabrol set the tone of dry, emotional detachment that would become his trademark. In his first color film, A double tour (released in English as Web of Passion), he started to examine the psychological causes of violence and to relate them to the emptiness of bourgeois values. By 1962, when he released L'oeil du malin (Eye of the Devil), Chabrol had introduced a long-lasting formula: the love triangle story involving the recurrent female character Hélène, played by actress Stéphane Audran, whom Chabrol married in 1964. Chabrol's early films, often personal in nature, are considered central documents of the French New Wave.
To finance further films of a more personal stamp, Chabrol took on commercial assignments in the 1960s. Among theses were the spy films Le tigre aime la chair fraiche (released as The Tiger Likes Fresh Meat, 1964), Marie-Chantal contre le docteur Kha (Marie-Chantal vs. Dr. Kha, 1965), and La route de Corinthe (The Road to Corinth, 1967). He also did a Shakespearean parody called Ophelia. During the same period Chabrol collaborated with other major players in world cinema for several episodic films. In Les plus belles escroqueries du monde (The Most Beautiful Scams in the World) he teamed with Hiromichi Horikawa, Roman Polanski, and his old friend Godard to tell a story of four international con artists. He also collaborated with several of France's top directors for Les sept péchés capitaux, an investigation of the seven deadly sins. The Barbet Schroeder-produced Paris vu par (Paris as Seen By) featured six vignettes, each directed by a different filmmaker. Chabrol's segment “La Muette” starred himself and Audran as a husband and wife. Chabrol also tried his hand at war films with La ligne de démarcation (Line of Demarcation) starring Jean Seberg, the short-haired American beauty seen in Ă bout de soufflé.
In the late 1960s, Chabrol began what is generally regarded as a period of masterpieces, often employing variations of the love triangle story line featuring his stock characters Charles, Paul, and Hélène. With Audran as the calm, cool Hélène, actors Michel Bouquet and Jean Yanne often appeared as Charles or Paul. The rest of his crew also remained constant, with AndréGénovès generally serving as producer, Paul Gégauff as screenwriter, Jean Rabier as cinematographer, Pierre Jansen as composer, and Jacques Gaillard as editor. During this time he developed his own style of the psychological thriller that, as Terrence Rafferty discussed in the New York Times, “refuses to thrill,” heavily influenced by directors Alfred Hitchcock and Fritz Lang. In Rafferty's words: “The icy, bemused manner he perfected in those years enabled him to generate tension in ways that didn't depend so heavily on satisfying the audience's desire for the resolution of a plot; the suspense was in the excruciating restraint of his direction, the scrupulous withholding of the artist's judgment on his often very, very naughty characters.”
Launched Series of Triangle Tales
Chabrol's breakthrough film of this period was 1968's Les biches (The Does), the story of a lesbian couple in a love triangle with an outsider named Paul. Lennon wrote, “This could have been simply pandering to a classical male fantasy, and 1968 was not the best year to bring out a film with no political gloss, but it was given substantial depth by Chabrol's treatment. The critics liked it and it was a financial success.” Stéphane Audran won the Best Actress Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival for her performance. Chabrol's next film, La femme infidèle (The Unfaithful Woman), is considered a classic of love-triangle suspense; it was remade by director Adrian Lyne as Unfaithful in 2002.
Over the next several years, Chabrol continued to explore the ramifications of the basic scenario he had established. In Que la bête meure (The Beast Must Die, 1969), the Charles character finds out about Hélène and Paul as he investigates the death of his son. In La rupture (The Breakup, 1970), Charles and his wealthy parents hire the outsider Paul in a plot against Hélène. In 1970's Le boucher (The Butcher), among the most celebrated of all Chabrol films, Hélène is a schoolteacher and Paul is a butcher who returns from the war. They develop a friendship while a series of murders shake up the small town. In Juste avant la nuit (Just Before Nightfall, 1971), Charles is the one having the affair, while Hélène is the one compelled to turn to violence. In the last film of this period, Les noces rouges (Red Nights, 1973), the wife and her lover team up against Paul, the estranged husband.
Chabrol's films of the late 1970s and early 1980s were less consistent but more diverse, and he often worked in television and even commercials during this period. Written by and starring his longtime screenwriter Paul Gégauff, Une partie de plaisir (A Portion of Pleasure, 1975) was a dark psychological drama about the breakup of a family, costarring Gégauff's own wife and daughter. Meanwhile, Chabrol's own marriage to Audran was breaking up, “because,” Chabrol told Lennon, “I found myself becoming more interested in her as an actress than a wife.”
He would soon find a new leading lady for his next era of films: Isabelle Huppert. In 1978's Violette Nozière, Chabrol investigated the true story of a young girl who killed her parents in the 1930s. A young Huppert played the title character, taking the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival. Audran also had a role in the film. Chabrol also found a new production company in MK2, headed by Marin Karmitz. He also found a new composer, his son Matthieu Chabrol, and a new script supervisor, his third wife, Aurore.
Helmed World War II Abortion Film
While the careers of the other surviving members of the New Wave movement were finished or winding down, Chabrol returned to international distribution and critical recognition with 1988's Une affaire des femmes (An Affair of Women). Huppert portrayed a woman who was killed by the Vichy government for performing abortions during World War II. Despite a controversy at release time, it won international acclaim, including a Golden Globe nomination. In 1991 Chabrol took on the nineteenth-century literary subject Madame Bovary. He told Lennon, “I had wanted to do it for years, but was afraid. Then I said to myself, I am 60, if I don't do it now I never will—and I have the perfect actress: Isabelle.”
In 1995's La cérémonie (The Ceremony), Huppert played a working class woman who befriends a shy maid, played by Sandrine Bonnaire. The film offers a strong example of a Chabrol story in which quiet desperation builds, here exploding in a violent attack against an upper-middleclass family. The film earned festival acclaim and several nominations for César awards, France's equivalent to the Oscars. Chabrol himself sat on the jury at the Venice Film Festival in 2000.
That year he teamed with Isabelle Huppert for Merci pour le chocolat (Thanks for the Chocolate, released in English as Nightcap), based on a crime novel by Charlotte Armstrong. In this slow thriller, Huppert took emotional detachment to an extreme level. According to Rafferty, “Merci Pour le Chocolat is as elegantly impersonal as a mathematical proof; a rigorous exercise in sang-froid. That description could, in fact, apply to a majority of [Chabrol's] 48 feature films, and to all the most celebrated ones.” Featuring the director's son Thomas Chabrol in the supporting cast, La fleur du mal (The Flower of Evil, 2003) dealt with the criminal wrongdoing in three generations of a wealthy family. It was nominated for the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin International Film Festival, almost five decades after Chabrol was first honored there.
La demoiselle d'honneur (The Bridesmaid, 2004) was another typically slow-moving thriller involving a romance between Philippe, a middle-class man and Senta, a moody girl. Their relationship could be seen as a metaphor for Chabrol's films in general, argued Rafferty: “Philippe is attracted to Senta, then fascinated by her, then virtually obsessed with her, all without quite knowing why and without fully understanding who she is; she's ardent yet at times strangely affectless, opaque, and that opacity somehow both disturbs and excites him. That's what watching a Claude Chabrol movie is like.”
In 2003 Chabrol was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the European Film Awards, but he showed no signs of resting on his laurels. In 2006 Chabrol addressed current affairs with L'ivresse du pouvoir (The Comedy of Power), loosely based on the Elf affair, a real-life investigation of a corrupt oil company. Making a North American debut at New York's Tribeca Film Festival, the film showed Chabrol's continuing interest in exposing the corrupt values of the upper class. Chabrol returned in 2007 with the black comedy La fille coupée en deux (The Girl Cut in Two), winning the Bastone Bianco Award at the Venice Film Festival. Still at work in his eighth decade, Chabrol told Alison James of Variety that “when you get to my age, you have to accelerate, not slow down. I've still got a lot of films I want to make, and I don't want to tempt fate.”
International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Volume 2: Directors, 4th ed., St. James, 2000.
Wood, Robin, and Michael Walker, Claude Chabrol, Praeger, 1970.
New Statesman, August 1, 2005.
New York Times, September 1, 2002; July 30, 2006.
Variety, August 22, 2005.
“Claude Chabrol,” Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com (January 12, 2008).
“Claude Chabrol,” Senses of Cinema, http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/directors/02/chabrol.html, (January 6, 2008).
“Surfer on the New Wave,” The Guardian, http://film.guardian.co.uk/interview/interviewpages/0,6737,507603,00.html (January 6, 2008).