Claude Chabrol, 1930-2010
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 13, 2010 - The death of Claude Chabrol this weekend provides further proof that the masters of the Nouvelle Vague, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year (depending on how you determine its origin), are all in their sunset years even as their films, new and old, continue to shine.
Chabrol, who was 80, was preparing to visit the United States to promote his last film "Bellamy," which opens next month. His death, following that of Eric Rohmer last year, leaves only two of the core New Wave/Cahiers group still alive and active: Jean-Luc Godard, 79, whose first feature "Breathless" is enjoying a revival, offhandedly claims have retired but has a new film making the festival circuit and recently made headlines when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided to give him a lifetime achievement award whether he wanted it or not. Jacques Rivette, 82, continues to makes films; his most recent, "Around a Small Mountain," will be screened here next weekend.
Chabrol made more than 50 feature films, a majority of which revolve around themes of crime, murder and/or the habits of the French middle class. From his debut feature "La Beau Serge" (1958), a harsh look at rural life, through the great cycle of suspense melodramas starring his then-wife Stephane Audran ("Les Biches," "La Femme Infidele," "Le Boucher" and "Just Before Nightfall" -- all made between 1968 and 1970), to a more recent string of commercial collaborations with actress Isabelle Huppert (their first film together, 1978's "Violette noziere" may be his masterpiece), Chabrol avoided the spectacular and zeroed in on the darkest secrets of the most ordinary lives.
Eschewing the romanticism so familiar to his New Wave brothers, his films could shock, confuse and provoke: His politics were almost perversely unsettled, to the dismay of critics left, right and center, and his often fierce mockery of the bourgeoisie was almost always balanced with a deep familiarity with, and even an affection for, its practices. A moralist with a nuanced eye toward immorality, his films transcend the crime-based genres that inspired them and became an encyclopedia of ordinary life stripped bare.
As blogger Jeffrey Wells neatly wrapped it up in an entry today, "I never really agreed with his being regarded as the French Hitchcock. He was just Chabrol the consistent."