Claude Chabrol

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Isabel Quigly

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In those ferocious discussions over Form and Content that shake the film world (well, bits of it) from time to time, in which the lunatic fringe on one side maintains that it doesn't care twopence what a film-maker says so long as he says it beautifully, and on the other that it doesn't care twopence how he says it so long as he's got something to say; and the rest of us, non-lunatics to a man, hover somewhere between the two, feeling craven, the name of Claude Chabrol springs to mind, or at least to my mind, in no time. For if there was ever a skilful film-maker with precious little to say, here, as one thin, vivacious, well-arranged nullity after another has proved, he is….

Individualists like Truffaut, Demy and Godard have gone their own way, each a separate, unallied artist, quickly diverging from any 'norm' there might have been at the beginning of that creative outburst, overpraised like most innovations, which the press rather meaninglessly christened 'nouvelle vague.' But Chabrol remains what everyone suspected the whole bunch of them to be, a sort of amalgam of them all, with his alarming, representative figures of Youth (which parody everyone's most gruesome views on the subject), his overheated situations, his whole presentation of life as being at the same time souped-up and squalid, and, of course, his intense, myopic view of human affairs. Obviously Pope had a prophetic view of the cinema when he said:

          Why has not man a microscopic eye?
          For this plain reason, man is not a fly,

and a director like Chabrol is the classic example of the industrious, self-important fly, crawling over the face of the universe and exclaiming at the tree-like quality of a single bristle.

Ophelia is not exactly a modern version of Hamlet, but a variation on the theme of Hamlet, with (of course) a film within the film instead of the play within the play (and the director lecturing his cast about the duties and limitations of film-actors, just as Hamlet did the players), a chat with a jolly gravedigger, and, in case we may have missed the parallels, posters for Olivier's film of Hamlet which is showing at the hero's local cinema….

It is all pretty inept, false and absurd, and yet Chabrol has the skill—even if it is an empty skill—to keep the screen satisfactorily, sometimes touchingly, sometimes beautifully, filled for much of the time he uses it, and this has so little to do with what he is trying to say that it's maddening.

Isabel Quigly, "Less than Kind," in The Spectator (© 1963 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), Vol. 211, No. 7057, September 27, 1963, p. 388.

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