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TIME (27/Sep/2010) - Claude Chabrol




Claude Chabrol

"Right from its opening," wrote the young critic in a 1955 Cahiers du Cinéma review, "Rear Window does present an immediate focus of interest that puts it on a higher plane than the majority of [ Alfred Hitchcock's ] earlier works, enough to warrant its entry into the category of serious films, beyond the mere entertainment thriller." The title of Claude Chabrol's essay was "Serious Things," itself an assertion that the loftiest cinematic artistry could reside in a mere thriller — either Hitchcock's or, when the critic became a director a few years later, his own.

Chabrol, who died Sept. 12 at 80, directed many kinds of films, but he was most celebrated for domestic dramas that end in death (Les Bonnes Femmes, Les Biches, La Femme Infidèle, Le Boucher, La Cérémonie, Merci pour le Chocolat). Call them mere thrillers à la Hitchcock and Chabrol probably wouldn't have minded the label, for he was a scholar of the genre.

Hitchcock often told stories of men with a toxic focus on women. So did Chabrol. Like every moviegoer, he was the viewer as voyeur. A connoisseur of the sexual appraisal that men send women's way, he identified its power, sickness and high mortality rate. Looking can kill you, he suggested — unless you're a professional, like a movie director.

Upon his death in Paris, Chabrol — who directed more than 55 feature films, from 1958's Le Beau Serge to last year's Bellamy — was lionized as a founding father of that late-'50s film explosion known as the new wave, which included such giants as François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Eric Rohmer and Alain Resnais. One of the wonders of the Cahiers wunderkinder is that they started with a bang and stayed at it for so long. But none of these greats had a career as placidly productive as Chabrol's or as dedicated to making "serious things" the stuff of wickedly entertaining art.