"Nowadays you never know what you are going to get from Claude Chabrol," wrote Derek Malcolm in the Guardian back in 1999. "But there was a short spell in the late 60s and early 70s when you knew exactly. From 1968's Les Biches to 1971's Juste Avant La Nuit, he made half a dozen psychological thrillers that have never been equalled, at least by a European director in Europe."
Chabrol turns 80 today and, while there doesn't seem to be much fanfare in the French papers, ten days ago, the Société des auteurs et compositeurs dramatiques (SACD) presented him with its Grand Prix, sort of a lifetime achievement award.
Catherine Grant has launched a new project, filmanalytical, running alongside her indispensable Film Studies for Free. The first post features her video essay (13'32") on Chabrol's Les Bonnes femmes (1960), which "was a movie I had taught many times and thought that I knew very well, which was why I chose to work on it. What I realised afterwards was that I had also been motivated by a desire to engage with this film's strangeness — its beguiling yet disturbing affect — which neither I nor my students had been able to articulate in words, in detail at least, in numerous individual sequence analyses in university seminars."
Last year, Daniel Kasman, having just seen Bellamy, Chabrol's first collaboration with Gérard Depardieu, modestly proposed: "Perhaps if Claude Chabrol took a year or two off between each production he, too, would make another masterpiece, but like Oliveira, like Allen, he is tireless, and like the former of those aged masters (and decidedly not like the latter), if he is going to make a movie, even a lesser movie, he takes the opportunity to hone and explore both his craft and his art. There are no throwaway films in a director's filmography when one approaches each project with this admirable attitude."
In the late 60s, "for more than half a dozen movies Chabrol found a way of combining dramatic necessity with a distanced, sociological and, yes, even political perspective." Tony McKibbin in Images: "He did so by telling tales of bourgeois despair in a cinematic style aligned with its subjects but also at one remove from them: Chabrol watched rather than identified. Yet he did so without any Brechtian asides or overt narrative digressions (unlike other Nouvelle Vague filmmakers, such as Jean-Luc Godard and Jacques Rivette). Working with a regular team (including cameraman Jean Rabier and composer Pierre Jansen), Chabrol worked out an aesthetic of deliberate pans, tracking shots, and occasional but strikingly abrupt zooms.... His are the most scrupulous of thrillers: they tell a story with an emotional equilibrium that closes the gap between the creator and viewer."
Richard Armstrong for Senses of Cinema in 2002: "Highly regarded as one of French cinema's elders, Chabrol has worked with many of the best actors and technicians of the postwar period. Although occasionally contentious — Une Affaire des femmes' account of wartime Vichy French collaboration led to violent protests when it was released in 1988 — his work seldom generated the cinephiliac excitement attending Godardian experimenta, or drew the devoted crowd that followed Truffaut. Yet, for Ginette Vincendeau, the bulk of Chabrol's work elicits 'a comfortable "quality" which is…far from unpleasurable.' The best of them belong in a pantheon alongside vintage Lang and Hitchcock."
Flickhead hosted a lively Chabrol Blog-a-Thon last summer. They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? has a nice little collection of quotes about and by the filmmaker. Appreciations in the German papers: Daniel Kothenschulte (Frankfurter Rundschau), Helmut Merker (Tagesspiegel) and Bert Rebhandl (Berliner Zeitung). See, too, the Claude Chabrol Project and definitely dip into Ed Howard's reviews, on films ranging from La muette (1965) through A Girl Cut in Two (2008).
Update, 6/25: Jonathan Rosenbaum celebrates Chabrol's 80th by running his 1989 review of Poulet au vinaigre. He'd caught it in '85 and found it "had sex, violence, dark wit, a superb sense of both the corruption and meanness of life in the French provinces, a good whodunit plot, Balzacian characters (including an interesting detective), and very nice camera work by Jean Rabier, Chabrol's usual cinematographer. It wasn't a masterpiece, but at the very least it was a well-crafted and satisfying entertainment."
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