Claude Chabrol Gordon Gow - Essay

Gordon Gow

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Chabrol, detached but perceptive, takes one of his coolest looks at the instability of human nature in Les Biches, a film which could have been made as an emotional drama but which Chabrol prefers to treat as a suave and objective tragedy with disquieting undercurrents. While the flow of the work is exceptionally smooth, provoking the mind rather than the nerve-ends, and is therefore unusual enough to be set apart from conventional cinema, it still has allegiance to filmic precepts. (pp. 40-1)

For neither of the women [Frédérique and Why] is sympathy invited: to neither is compassion denied. But the aspect is clinical, the visuals serene and uninvolved. The locale shifts early from Paris to St Tropez, bland in winter sunshine…. And the formality of technique is subtle, amounting to one of the cinema's nearest approximations to ballet. The movements of figures, individually and also in relationship to one another, are immediately significant in the prologue on the bridge, and are to remain of greatest importance in the style of the entire movie. Placement and pattern, the smooth participation of the camera in the moving design, the geometric highlighting of central figures at a party, which is also decorated sparely and aptly by a male couple who have battened upon Frédérique for money and a species of affection and who serve their transient turn as court jesters: these are affiliations with the dance, all assimilated quite naturally into the medium of cinema, and crystallised eventually in a pas de trois. (p. 41)

[The hapless trio in Les Biches] are creatures perplexed by the indeterminate naggings of their passions; and the droll conclusion, in which deception is cultivated as a final bid for 'comfort', deprives the spectator of any other balm than the smile of self-protection. It is one of Chabrol's major efforts, just a bit too slow within the first half-hour perhaps, but after that quite holding and admirable. (p. 42)

Gordon Gow, "The New Films: 'Les Biches'" (© copyright Gordon Gow 1969; reprinted with permission), in Films and Filming, Vol. 15, No. 6, March, 1969, pp. 40-2.