Claude Chabrol Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Claude Chabrol 1930–

French director, screenwriter, and actor.

Chabrol is generally acknowledged as an important new wave filmmaker. His films are conventionally constructed and his plots are somewhat similar from film to film. Although his work has been compared to that of his idol Alfred Hitchcock, Chabrol marries the master's sense of intrigue with a deep probing into human relationships.

Chabrol worked as a publicity man for Twentieth Century-Fox in Paris, and later became a highly regarded film critic for Cahiers du Cinéma. He collaborated with Eric Rohmer on a highly respected study of Hitchcock's films, which was published in 1957. Soon after he began working on Le Beau Serge, his first film. This film is considered the forerunner of the new wave, characterized by the use of unknown actors, low budget techniques, and the highly personal attitude of the filmmaker towards his work. Although the critical success of François Truffaut's Les Quatre Cents Coups and Alain Resnais's Hiroshima Mon Amour brought the movement to fruition, Chabrol's film set the stage for the acceptance of the less-polished, individualistic style of the new wave film-makers.

Chabrol directed many films during the late fifties and sixties, usually incorporating themes similar to Le Beau Serge, often with uneven results. Les Cousins concerns a relationship between two dissimilar cousins who are law students, and ends in murder. Les Biches involves a ménage à trois between two lesbians and a male lover, also culminating in murder. Les Biches, Le Boucher, and a number of his other films have starred Stéphane Audran, his second wife, in roles which are typically mysterious and doom-ridden.

Chabrol's work has been for the most part commercial successes. His work was at first linked with the works of Truffaut and Godard, but he has since turned to more conventional techniques. Unlike many of the new wave films, Chabrol's films are not autobiographical. "Telling your own story seems disgusting to me," he has said. Rather, his films are detached studies of characters whose sexual ambiguity and overpowering influences on each other most often lead to violent death.