25 January 2002 | dbdumonteil
20 years after.
"Les fantômes du chapelier" ,very well received at the time of release,still stands as Chabrol's best movie in the eighties,though certain aspects of its premise have undergone some reassessment.
Seen today,the movie displays flaws that were hardly noticeable 20 years ago.First of all,Michel Serrault overplays:his over-the -top performance ,once lauded ,seems now exasperating and throws the movie off balance.(I wonder what Chabrol's other favorite,Michel Bouquet, would have done in this part).This imbalance is increased by the fact that Charles Aznavour's character is not present enough on the screen.Aznavour gives a wonderful portrayal of an Armenian émigré,whom bourgeois Serrault enjoys humiliating and demeaning.With hindsight Aznavour beats Serrault hands down.
The problem with "les fantômes du chapelier" is that it recalls other superior movies:bourgeois impunity had always been treated by Chabrol himself during his 1967-1973 heyday (notably:"la femme infidèle","la rupture" "juste avant la nuit""docteur Popaul"),but also long before him:Henri Decoin's "non coupable" (1946) and "la verite sur Bebe Donge" (1952): in the 1946 film,the intention is much clearier and scarier than in Chabrol's 1982 effort,and ,anyway,Serrault is no match for Michel Simon.We can also mention George Lautner's "le septième juré". "Les fantômes du chapelier" has an eerie side,verging on fantastic ,but ,again,there's the rub:let's face it,it looks like some kind of "psycho" of which the secret would have been be revealed sooner.
Something intriguing:the camera often shows a "Ben Hur" poster in the neighborhood .A tribute to William Wyler is dubious from a "nouvelle vague " family director,but who knows?
See it anyways.Its several incredible moments will make it worth your while.For Charles Aznavour and for Chabrol's always absorbing depiction of a small town.