One From the Vaults
Doug Anderson | Miami Beach, Florida United States | 07/14/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The release of Chabrol's box set last year (2003)has led to a re-evaluation of this seminal new waver's entire ouvre. Previous to the release of this box set common wisdom held that Chabrol made several masterpieces in the sixties and early seventies (Les Biches, Femme Infidele, Le Boucher, This Man Must Die) but that by the mid-seventies his creative well had dried up. Common wisdom also held that Chabrol then experienced a creative rejuvination of his vital creative fluids in the nineties at which time he resumed his task of making masterpieces (Le Ceremonie, Merci Pour Le Chocolat, Flowers of Evil). The films that fall between those two creative periods have largely been forgotten or were never noticed before (by English speaking audiences) because they were never released in this part of the world . The release of the box set in 2003 (which included the above mentioned masterpieces as well as some masteful oddities like La Rupture, Ten Days Wonder& Nada) along with the release of Masques in 2004 ( DVD released in July 2004 but the film was made in 1989), however, has led many to re-evaluate Chabrol's middle period. Masques along with the still available Cry of the Owl (1987) provide ample proof that the years between Le Boucher and La Ceremonie were no less fruitful for Chabrol than were his other more lauded decades of production (1960's & 1990's). In fact with Masques (available for the first time to American viewers) it is begining to appear that the eighties were perhaps Chabrol's most thoughtful years. From the vantage point of psychological complexity and class antagonism the eighties films seem far more advanced than anything that came before them and these films certainly point the way toward the kinds of films Chabrol is now making---finely nuanced portraits of the sociology (and sociopathology) of class. Highly recommeded to any Chabrol fan. Also recommended Bertrand Tavernier's Clean Slate, which also stars Noiret in another double-edged performance. Hopefully this trend of releasing Chabrol's lost masterpieces will continue. It also seems that Chabrol's earliest films are beginning to gain the respect that has long been accorded to Truffaut and Godard. In retrospectives Chabrol's seem to be the films that retain their edge. Chabrol's dark (and oft times comic) allure is one of the rarest pleasures afforded by cinema, past or present."
Frank J. De Canio | New York City, NY United States | 02/10/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I've always wondered what makes Hitchcock slightly different from his imitators (imitators either by design or accident). The latter films seem to use images that are a potpourri of those of the former. All of the plots and moral interests are there and yet they somehow don't have the cogency, the underlying vision, the emotional underpinnings of a great Hitchcock movie.
In the jargon of creative writing classes, perhaps the problem is that they "tell" instead of "show". Could it be that films which impress me less have ideas that are then gussied up with plot, while the films that mean more to be have narratives which are informed by a vision that drives them?
Certainly the idea of organic growth in those films seems of use here in understanding where the problem may lie; a sense that the situation and its development has or has not been earned.
Be it as it may, Chabrol is always interesting, notwithstanding what may be unavoidable snippets of the master's influence. I like Masques immensely, but with the reservation that Hitchcock would have done it differently. For instance, Sir Alfred emphasized the importance of letting the viewer be privy to important bits of information,lacking which it's harder to get involved.
I'm referring to the fact that the hero has ulterior motives in writing a biography of his avowed idol. Lacking this information, the gun which he deposits in his guest room's closet seems ludicrous at the time. I mean what is a writer doing carrying a gun with him as a guest in someone's house, unless from the beginning he was either groomed as a potential murderer or as the case will be. It's lacking context.
Chabrol knows what it's there for, but shouldn't we? Its only purpose seems to be the heeding of Chekhov's principle that a gun appearing early in a play should be used later. But any prop like that needs a context (cleaning his gun collection, for instance;of of a slew of old mementoes that he's reminiscng about),a justification as it were, which we don't get till later.
Then, there's the usual echoes of Hitchcock here, not neccessarily obvious, bad or intentional, but worth noting. The panning shot on the bed (minus the money on the blanket) seems to pay homage to a similar shot in Psycho. The immobolized Catherine echoes Ingrid Bergman in Notorious. Madeline possesses the same mystery for the hero as she did for Scotty Ferguson in Vertigo. Even the March of the Marionettes (the introductory music to Alfred Hitchcock's old TV show) accompanies the game show host sometimes on his tv program. The arrangement for the murder brought back memories of Vandamm's directive to drop Eve Kendall "from a great height" in North by Northwest. And isn't that the key from Notorious that allows for the hero's discovery, not this time of Uranium, but of compromising documents? The hero's wry, sheepish retort, "She's my future wife" when queried by the garage attendant as to who the woman is, echoes, at a similarly tense motive (meant to inform the suspense with romance)and not necessarily to its advantage, Roger Thornhill's "If we ever get out of this alive, we're going back on the train together".
Nothing wrong with these evocations. After all, like language, a certain use of images will reappear from time to time. But the wit, the clever, urbane dialogue, and the emotional investment, the identification, that a good Hitchcok film demands is somewhat lacking here.
Organically creating suspense from situations (earning it) instead of manufactuing it, may be another clue as to diminished returns in an otherwise very good and yes, suspenceful film by a clear master of his craft. I hope this doesn't read like a presumptuous attempt to criticize a great movie director. It's meant to reflect an admiration for a director
who's great, unique and singularly interesting enough to suggest the comparison.
That said, the filmic values here are all great. The cast, the acting, the twists and turns of plot all mandate thoughtful viewing and reward it.
Would I want to see it again. Yes. If only to look for further details that merit scrutiny. For instance, I was impressed by the economy of the manner in which the movie managed to tie up plot concerns. The villain's trenchant valedictory (which bt the way reminded me of the misogynistic dinner table sequence in Shadow of a Doubt) eliminated a personl moral credibility the lead character had, which might have been useful to any future defense (I don't want to give plot issues away here), while the affiliation of the hero also afforded him certain exemptions that helped advance the plot. On the other hand Catherine's sudden conversion didn't seem too convincing. But all in all, a good movie.