Before he directed Le Beau Serge (1956) – the first of some 60 films he would make in his long and successful career – Claude Chabrol co-authored with Eric Rohmer the first serious book on the work of Alfred Hitchcock. In later years he himself would be described as "the French Hitchcock," but the comparison is simplistic. While he shares with the English master of suspense a preference for thrillers, a preoccupation with guilt, and a predilection for black humour, a study of his films in fact reveals a Chabrolian cinematic vision uniquely his own. Pitched somewhere between art films and popular entertainment, and often revolving around the theme of infidelity and its consequences, his movies offer subtle but penetrating insights into human behaviour, especially man’s relentless capacity for cruelty and crime. Here's our choice of Chabrol's greatest films.
(The Breach, 1970)
From the deranged opening scene to the tripped out final images, this mind-bending foray into psychosis, deceit and corruption is Chabrol’s most explicit attack on the malign influence of the bourgeoisie. One of the director’s most audacious and entertaining movies, loaded with well-drawn characters, unexpected plot twists and expressionistic touches.
(The Cousins, 1958)
Chabrol’s Nouvelle Vague milestone relates the story of Charles, an idealistic young provincial who comes to Paris to study law while sharing a flat with his dissolute cousin Paul. Out of his depth amongst the decadent sophisticates of the city, he goes disastrously off the rails. A sparklingly shot study of moral corruption and lost innocence.
Isabelle Huppert won the best actress award at the 1978 Cannes Film Festival for her stunning performance in the title role as the teenage prostitute and murderess who caused a scandal in France in the 1930s. Chabrol demonstrates total control over the material, brilliantly recreating the era and focusing a revealing gaze on the beguiling Violette.
A meticulously crafted psychological drama about a murder and its aftermath focusing on the perpetrator of the crime and his struggle to deal with the guilt for what he has done. A complex study of morality featuring fine performances from Michel Bouquet, Stéphane Audran and Francois Périer.
(The Does, 1968)
Wealthy, glamorous Frederique, picks up poor, but beautiful Why on a Paris street, seduces her, then whisks her away to a new life of bohemian leisure in St. Tropez. This stylish, subtle, and intense drama kicked off the most celebrated period of Chabrol’s career. Stephane Audran’s riveting performance, Jean Rabier’s masterful cinematography, and Pierre Jansen’s atmospheric score create an unforgettable impression.
Controversial and unpopular at the time of its release, Chabrol’s exhilarating, empathetic and ultimately shocking chronicle of the lives of four shop girls looking for love and success in 1960s Paris is now recognised as a a New Wave masterpiece.
Chabrol’s wintry late masterpiece establishes an expectant atmosphere from the first scene, building slowly to its final shocking climax. Sadrine Bonnaire and Isabelle Huppert are frighteningly convincing as two social misfits who come into conflict with a wealthy upper-class family with tragic consequences.
Que le bête meure
(The Beast Must Die, 1969)
Enthralling psychological thriller about a father’s quest for revenge following the death of his son in a hit and run car accident. Based on a novel by C. Day Lewis, this gripping exploration of revenge and its moral implications keeps the viewer guessing until the final devastating twist.
La Femme infidèle
(The Unfaithful Wife, 1969)
Michel Bouquet is outstanding as Charles, the wronged husband driven to murder by his wife's adultery, in this most quintessential of all Claude Chabrol films. A beautifully controlled study of human frailty: disturbing, compassionate and utterly compelling.
(The Butcher, 1970)
A village schoolteacher begins to suspect that her close friend, the local butcher, might enjoy carving up more than steak and porkchops. Rich in both authentic atmosphere and nerve-jangling suspense, this deeply unsettling study of loneliness and human compulsion is one of the greatest works in French cinema.