Claude Chabrol David L. Overbey - Essay

David L. Overbey

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

If Chabrol is to be believed, Les Noces Rouges … is the last film of his Balzacian comédie humaine of French society in the middle twentieth century. In this new film, written by Chabrol without the active help of his usual scenarist Paul Gegauff, the bourgeoisie are less charming, less discreet, less intelligent, and far more corrupt than Chabrol has ever before shown them….

The shape of Chabrol's plot is a classic triangle-murder, owing as much to the tradition of James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice as to press stories about the similar murders in Bourganeuf….

The characters and story, of course, no matter what their ultimate source, are pure Chabrol. His tone and manner are the aciform irony we have come to expect, tempered in (can it be said once again?) the hell of a Langian trap and the revelational—if not redemptive—Hitchcockian confessional….

[When Pierre and Lucienne have a love affair because of their loveless marriages, we are not] being offered a romantic solution to provincial frustrations. Just as Chabrol parodied the romantic cinema with his swooping tracking shots in the lovers' walk through the poppy fields as long ago as La Double Tour, in Les Noces Rouges he so controls the love scenes of Pierre and Lucienne that they are as hilarious as they are erotic. (p. 234)

In Les Noces Rouges, as in every film Chabrol has made in the series, which can be extended back as far as Le Beau Serge, there is a Paul. This time, however, there is no Hélène or Charles. Chabrol has said that Hélène is partially a creature of myth, and that 'Charles will never kill Paul.' Charles was the character who was incapable of final corruption, who was often an idealist and dreamer. In Les Noces Rouges, as in the underrated Doctor Popaul, it would seem that Paul can be killed by a changed Charles character. The dreamers and the dream, as well as the Hélène of romantic myth, are no more. So it is that Chabrol ends his rich series of bourgeois melodramas. A new sort of system? A new basis for human relationships? Why, they never even dreamed of that! (pp. 234-35)

David L. Overbey, "Film Reviews: 'Les Noces Rouges'," in Sight and Sound (copyright © 1973 by The British Film Institute), Vol. 42, No. 4, Autumn, 1973, pp. 234-35.