Claude Chabrol DOUGLAS McVAY - Essay

DOUGLAS McVAY

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Several episodes [in Les Innocents aux Mains Sales] of legal skirmishing and police detective-work are at once verbosely expository and tiresomely facetious. Chabrol's direction occasionally lapses into repetitive cross-cutting during dialogue exchanges, or alternatively into gratuitous visual and aural excess for moments of eroticism or melodrama. These flaws prevent the film from being ranked among his supreme achievements in the vein of bourgeois sexuality, emotional conflict and physical violence.

Yet Les Innocents aux Mains Sales still possesses many sequences and flashes of great skill, beauty and power: and it remains essential viewing for anybody who believes Chabrol to be one of the three best movie-makers currently working in France. Like Hitchcock in Shadow of a Doubt and Resnais in Stavisky, Chabrol in this picture expresses his subject-matter (duplicity) in a series of duplicated effects….

The resolution of Les Innocents like those of all Chabrol's better films, operates on more than one level. The numerous plot twists, typical of the whodunit genre, give rise to deeper and more affecting shifts of emotional allegiance amongst the protagonists. Thus the sadistic raping of the wife by the husband turns from an explosion of mutual hatred into a recognition of mutual love, crystallised in his words to her, "I will trust you, if you will trust me: and I will forgive you, if you will forgive me", accompanied by their gradual stretching out and clasping of hands as they lie together on the floor…. The concluding sequence, likewise, provides us with the second of two "resurrections". This finale is so ambiguous that it fails to round off the film with the meticulous psychological and dramatic rightness, the sense of rigorously worked-out Q.E.D., which distinguishes the finest of Chabrol's works.

Douglas McVay, "Films: 'Innocents with Dirty Hands," in Film (reprinted by permission of British Federation of Film Societies), No. 33, January, 1976, p. 8.