Le Boucher is more of a study in passive complicity or associative guilt than a murder-mystery, but it’s still a difficult movie to write about without spoiling the plot for newcomers, so I’m going to sidestep the problem. It reminds me of a tragic variation on La Belle et la Bête, in which Belle is too romantically jaded and too much the mistress of her own desires – i.e. she is not innocent enough – to save the helpless Beast from his uncontrollable lust for blood. In the most telling scene of all, schoolmistress Mademoiselle Hélène (Stéphane Audran) and her pupils visit some cave paintings by Cro-Magnon man. The teacher asks, “Do you know what desires are called when they rise above the savage state? Aspirations.” The irony is that Belle condemns the Beast to his savage limbo by being completely unresponsive to his tender advances, his aspirations. While the film undoubtedly owes a debt to Hitchcock, Chabrol’s beautifully observed provincial French setting completely surpasses the other’s invariably artificial backdrops. Pierre Jansen’s score is wonderfully creepy and Stéphane Audran and Jean Yanne are magnificent. A quietly perfect little masterpiece.