16 April 2004 | dbdumonteil
Farewell to the second golden era.
Claude Chabrol started as part of the nouvelle vague,as contemporary of Truffaut and -yuk!- Godard ,but his roots are in the old cinema,that of Clouzot and Duvivier.That's why his best movies hold up very well today.
A first golden era included such works as "à double tour" "le beau Serge" and "les cousins".Then came a period of barren inspiration which ended with "les biches" (1967) with which Chabrol entered his most fruitful period the 1967-1973 era:at least five of the works of this time are first-rate works :"la femme infidel" (1968;dubious American remake);"the beast must die" (1969) ;"the butcher" (1969) his towering achievement;"la rupture"(1970) his most underrated ;"juste avant la nuit" (1971) and finally "les noces rouges" which seems today as the last hurrah,a farewell to a golden era.
Unlike the four other films I mention "les noces rouges" is based on a true story which was widely talked about in France of the early seventies.But ,true or not,Chabrol's touch is strong and he makes the story a chabrolesque plot to the core.The bourgeois whom Chabrol depicted in "la femme infidel" or "la rupture" ,and who was played by Michel Bouquet has turned into a caricature.Enter Claude Piéplu,and with his high-pitched voice,he almost overshadows the excellent Stephane Audran and Michel Piccoli.An impotent self-satisfied mean bourgeois with political ambitions ,he accepts his wife's(Audran) affair with his deputy mayor(Piccoli) ,more,it's fine with him because it will be useful for his shady business.The scene when he tells the lovers so is incredible;lines such as "I want everybody to be happy around me!" he delivers to a stunned Piccoli and a bewildered Audran give goose pimples.
You will notice the omnipresence of water:in "que la Bete meure" and "le boucher" ,it symbolized a return from hell,not necessarily a happy end but a world with some peace of mind.In "les noces rouges" it appears during the love scenes (played by the two actors with more gusto than usual :never in a Chabrol movie the carnal act had been -and will be-so much to the fore)as a symbol of innocence (after all, the two people have no sex with their legal partners)in the sin.But it's the heroine's daughter ,called Helene ,who epitomizes innocence and some kind of deus ex machina.
What's more puzzling is that Stephane Audran's characters were all called Hélène in the four other movies I mention:in "la femme infidel' Helene had a lover but with some excuse :her husband appeared like a washout sexually;in "le boucher" she was a brave schoolteacher ,purity flesh on the bone;in "la rupture" her character had to fight against a hostile bourgeois world .In "les noces rouges" Audran ,called Lucienne,is on the other side of the mirror:she really becomes a criminal,almost in a dream .When her daughter,Hélène,who took the place she occupied in former movies asks her "I want you to be happy,mom,please tell me the truth" Audran does not seem to realize all that means.And when she does,it will be too late.
Les noces rouges" is also a movie which depicts political life circa 1970 in a small town where gossips run rampant.And as usual,Chabrol is marvelous when it comes to painting vignettes of ordinary life -see the scene in the library-
It would take Chabrol five years to muster this sort of command ("Violette Nozieres" (1978)),and although he has occasionally made great works ("l'enfer" " la cérémonie" ),he will be remembered in fifty years or so for those gems of the late sixties/early seventies era."Les noces rouges" is a must.