Le Boucher is a perfect example of how you don’t need pyrotechnic special effects for a film to be explosive, even if its impact derives almost purely from its subtleties. From French New Wave founder Calude Chabrol, Le Boucher is sexy, thrilling and artistically enigmatic. The film my complete attention, and I intend to familiarize myself with more of Chabrol’s work.
- Director: Claude Chabrol
- Writer: Claude Chabrol
- Cast: Stephane Audran, Jean Yanne
In a French provincial town, Helen (Stephane Audran) lives happily. She lives privately though she regularly engages in local society. Everything takes a turn when she meets Popaul (Jean Yanne), a mysterious butcher. Though he seems harmless at first, the fact that a series of murders coincides with his arrival forces Helen to think about him as a suspect, though her feelings are not altogether clear.
From the opening wedding scene, there is so much life and yet so much mystery to Le Boucher. Stephane Audran gives us an impeccable performance. Not only is she believable as a relatively naive school teacher, she also provides her character with enough depth to make us wonder how much she actually knows. This intangible quality is also responsible for the understated sexiness of this film, as her interactions with Popaul constantly make us question the degree to which she suspects him of murder and the degree to which she views him as a potential romantic companion. With a captivating mixture of sexual tension and mystery, the dialogue is engrossing as it invites the audience to read into each character’s behavior. Even when we see Helen merely looking out her window, we almost get the sense that she’s plotting something. An early scene shows them taking a walk after meeting for the first time. Chabrol masterfully follows their interaction with a long tracking shot, and while their conversation mostly focuses on Popaul’s profession as a butcher and his time in the army, her attentive listening, her playful questions, and her cigarette smoking result in cinematic fireworks.
The music by Pierre Jansen is perfectly suited for the material, enhancing certain scenes with its ominous tone. In addition to his directing, Chabrol deserves praise for his simple yet engaging dialogue. Throughout the film, he quietly maintains the sense of something threatening through character conversations. If dialogue can be suggestive of so many things all at once, this is how its done. For instance, Helen takes her class on field trip, and the talk of Cro-Magnon survival feels so cleverly placed. The suspense feels Hitchcockian at times, complete with tracking shots, puzzling reveals, and great use of shadows and empty spaces.
Brief Words for Mr. Ebert:
Ebert’s review rightfully points out that all three victims in Le Boucher are carved up offscreen, and that “the only violence visible to us is psychic, and deals with the characters’ twists and needs.” Ebert is also cleverly observant when he describes how Helen seems instantly fascinated by the butcher’s savagery during the opening wedding meal. I am also in complete agreement that Stephane Audran is the type of actress who hold the “rare ability to compel us to wonder what in the hell she is thinking.” In addition to Chabrol’s crafty directing of enigmatic moments, Audran’s own ability to remain mysterious lends much to a film that is tailor made for vast interpretations. In fact, as Ebert’s review also points out, it will be impossible not to contemplate the implications of victimhood and its many forms.
Good, Bad or Great Movie: GREAT
Do you like Le Boucher? Do you consider this film to be Good, Bad, or does it stand up as Great?
Next week’s review: Diary of a Country Priest
Years ago, ScreenCrave contributor Jaime Lopez privately began tackling Roger Ebert’s “Greatest Films” list, a monolith of celluloid currently comprised of approximately 363 films (more if you count the trilogies, the Up docs and Decalogue). Lopez has set himself to put these remaining films’ “Greatness” to the test–reviewing both the movies themselves and Ebert’s response. By taking on Claude Chabrol’s Le Boucher this week, he now has 339 under his belt and less than 30 films left to go.