Le Beau Serge was Chabrol's first film, and its immense success on the French Catholic circuit pioneered the New Wave commercially….
The characters generally have more force and dignity than in Chabrol's later films—even though the village flirt says to Francois, 'You have a way of looking at us as if we were all insects'. In the scenes at the village hop one becomes aware of Chabrol picking out little details in a way that is grotesque rather than faithful to the atmosphere the characters would feel, and hints at the laborious eccentricity of the later films, from which I always get the impression of Chabrol hopping about the world like a hungry crow, snapping up fat, squiggly worms in his quick, horny beak, and dangling them in front of the audience, crowing, 'There's human nature for you'. However, here he approaches his personages with the sympathy and humility which are so woefully lacking after Les Cousins….
[Under] the theme of friendship, the film reveals a rather churchmouse view of existence, with undertones about the transference of sin and expiation from one soul to another, and good and evil being inextricably intertwined in every heart. Chabrol himself later denounced this aspect of the film….
Actually, the film is rather more interesting than Chabrol pretends. Its technical brio, its vivid atmosphere, and its sometimes gripping evocation of friendship, make it worth seeing.
Raymond Durgnat, "Raymond Durgnat on the Film That Started the Wave" (© copyright Raymond Durgnat 1963; reprinted with permission), in Films and Filming, Vol. 9, No. 4, January, 1963, p. 44.