Monday, September 13, 2010

In Memory: Claude Chabrol

Influential French filmmaker Claude Chabrol has died at the age of 80.

It was only recently I was discussing the work of this great filmmaker on this blog when I reviewed his films "Masques" (1987) and "Comedy of Powers" (2006). At the time I said I looked forward to seeing the master's next film. Sadly, that will never be.

Anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis knows of my great appreciation for the films of Mr. Chabrol. He has become one of the most discussed filmmakers on this blog

Claude Chabrol is credited among film historians for giving the world the first film in the Nouvelle Vague (French New Wave) movement with his film "Le Beau Serge" (1958). He was one of the most proflic and respected directors in the movement. He was also, one of the last living directors of the movement, Eric Rohmer died earlier this year.

Chabrol, like most of his Nouvelle Vague contempories, got his start as a critic writing for the now legendary Cahiers du cinema, along with Jean Luc-Godard, Francois Truffaut, Jacques Rivette and Eric Rohmer. But Chabrol made radically different films from these men. Rohmer was the romantic, Godard's films were political. Chabrol however earned the nickname "the French Hitchcock". His speciality were suspense/mysteries.

The films of Claude Chabrol focused on the bourgeoisie, though his earlier films, like "Le Beau Serge" were aimed at the working class. He wanted to expose their perfect facade. His films usually involved femme fatales, family secrets and murder. His films though always had a dry wit to them. Chabrol had a sarcastic world view. His films were never "preachy". Sometimes the "bad guy" got away.

I first became aware of Claude Chabrol thanks largely to former Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Wilmington. He would usually lavish high praise at Chabrol. He placed "La Ceremonie" (1997) on his top ten list. It was not unusual for Wilmington to give a Chabrol film 4 stars. My first run in with Chabrol was when I saw "Merci pour le Chocolat" (2002). My first time watching a Chabrol film in a theatre was when I saw "The Flower of Evil" (2003). His best film in recent years. A throwback to his earlier work and a film I put on my own "top ten" list that respected year. Since that time I eagerly attended each new Chabrol film.

It is true I was no longer filled with great excitment with his more current films, but, I walked into each movie hoping for the best. I wasn't ready to turn my back on Chabrol. Unlike many, I wasn't under the impression Chabrol's best days were behind him. I actually looked forward to see his next film.

Few filmmakers have been "rediscovered" often as Chabrol. His first films were critical successes. They laid the foundation for the nouvelle vage. But during the mid-60s critics started to turn their back on Chabrol. Was his talent a fluke? Had he run out of ideas. Chabrol answered all of his critics beginning what became known as his "classic period", releasing some of his strongest films; "Les Biches" (1968), "The Unfaithful Wife" (1969), "Le Boucher" (1972) and "Wedding in Blood" (1974). But once the 1980s hit, again, Chabrol was considered "old hat". His best days were behind him once again. And again Chabrol shot back at the end of the decade making "The Story of Women" (1989), which managed to win the National Board of Review award for "Best Foreign Film". Chabrol was back, so it seemed. After falling out of the public taste, yet again, he scored a comeback with "La Ceremonie", which was nominated for the top prize at the Venice Film Festival.

I'm going to miss looking forward to the next "Claude Chabrol film". It is a shame most younger film fans are unaware of this great filmmakers films. But even with his passing, I for one will continue to take pleasure rewatching his films. I'm sure there will be those who may want to go back and examine what is now his last film, "Bellamy" (2009) and try to see if any hidden messages can be found. But that is foolish.

With Eric Rohmer's death earlier this year and now Chabrol, the great masters are quickly fading away. Who is left? Godard is finally going to receive a lifetime achievement Oscar next year. Hoping in the next few years both Rohmer and Chabrol will get theirs.

In the next few days I'll probably review another Chabrol film as a sort of "tribute". Until then I will give my ratings for every Chabrol film I have seen.

1. Le Beau Serge (1958) **** (out of ****)

2. A Double Tour (1959) *** 1\2 (out of ****)

3. Les Bonnes Femmes (1960) *** (out of ****)

4. Les Biches (1968) **** (out of ****)

5. The Unfaithful Wife (1969) **** (out of ****)

6. This Man Must Die! (1971) **** (out of ****)

7. Le Boucher (1972) *** (out of ****)

8. Wedding in Blood (1974) **** (out of ****)
9. La Rupture (1975) *** (out ****)

10. The Pleasure Party (1975) *** 1\2 (out of ****)

11. Innocents with Dirty Hands (1975) *** 1\2 (out of ****)

12. Cop au Vin (1986) *** 1\2 (out of ****)

13. Masques (1987) *** 1\2 (out of ****)

14. Story of Women (1989) *** 1\2 (out of ****)

15. Madame Bovary (1991) *** (out of ****)

16. Betty (1992) ** 1\2 (out of ****)

17. L'Enfer (1994) **** (out of ****)

18. La Ceremonie (1997) **** (out of ****)

19. The Swindle (1997) *** (out of ****)

20. The Color of Lies (1999) *** (out of ****)

21. Merci pour le Chocolat (2002) *** 1\2 (out of ****)

22. The Flower of Evil (2003) **** (out of ****)

23. The Bridesmaid (2006) *** (out of ****)

24. Comedy of Power (2006) *** (out of ****)

25. A Girl Cut in Two (2008) *** (out of ****)

26. Bellamy (2009) *** (out of ****)