Wealthy, glamorous Frederique (Stephane Audran), picks up poor, but beautiful Why (Jacqueline Sassard) on a Paris street, seduces her, then whisks her away to a new life of bohemian leisure in St. Tropez. Complications ensue with the arrival of Paul (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a handsome, young architect, with whom Why falls hopelessly in love. Feeling threatened, Frederique visits Paul to find out what his intentions are, only to become romantically involved with him herself. Together they fly to Paris, leaving Why alone, resentful, and contemplating revenge.
This stylish, subtle, and intense drama set the tone for what is often described as Claude Chabrol’s “mature phase”. Indeed, the director himself described the picture as “the first film which I made exactly as I wished.” In its cool depiction of an idle bourgeoisie driven by cruelty and lust, and torn apart by jealousy, it established the territory that Chabrol would make his own over the coming years.
Released in 1968, the year of revolution, the film evokes the class struggle raging in France at the time as effectively as any more overtly political film. Frederique, played brilliantly by Chabrol’s then wife Stephane Audran, toys with the life of Why as if she were a plaything. With the confidence born of wealth, she uses people, like Robeque (Henry Attal) and Riais (Dominique Zardi), the comical gays who hang around the villa, as a distraction from the emptiness she feels within. They, in their turn, are only too happy to play along. The easy life, with its endless round of parties, games and fun, is too seductive to walk away from.
Chabrol’s camera observes the action with clear-eyed detachment. Dialogue is kept to a minimum, and it is left up to us, the audience, to interpret the motivations and emotions lurking beneath the characters’ blank expressions. The peculiar decor of Frederique’s villa, filled with hunting memorabilia, weapons, and muted colour, underlines the power-struggle being played out between the characters. The evocative string and piano score heighten the atmosphere still further. The tension builds as we wait for Why to act, and yet, when she does, it’s still comes as a shock.
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