Sunday, September 12, 2010

Deceased--Claude Chabrol

Claude Chabrol
June 24th, 1930 to September 12th, 2010

"Claude Chabrol, 80, Director, Dies"


Dave Kehr and Joseph Berger

September 12th, 2010

The New York Times

Claude Chabrol, the director and critic who helped give rise to the French New Wave and who went on to make a series of stylish, suspense-filled films like “Le Boucher” (“The Butcher”) and “La Femme Infidèle” (“The Unfaithful Wife”) that were often compared to those of Alfred Hitchcock, died Sunday in Paris. He was 80.

The death was announced by Christophe Girard, the chief cultural affairs official in Paris and confirmed by his press agent, Eva Simonet, who said he had been hospitalized for “severe anemia.” President Nicolas Sarkozy of France said on television that Mr. Chabrol “took the finesse of his social depictions from Balzac” and “his humor and vividness he got from Rabelais.”

Mr. Sarkozy added, “But he was most of all himself in his films, as in life, and I’m certain that everyone will miss him.”

Mr. Chabrol was a young film critic working for the magazine Les Cahiers du Cinema alongside François Truffaut, Jacques Rivette, Eric Rohmer and Jean-Luc Godard when a family inheritance allowed him to form his own production company. In 1956, he produced and wrote the screenplay for the short film “Le Coup de Berger,” which was directed by Mr. Rivette, then used his own money to finance “Le Beau Serge” (1957).

“Le Beau Serge” and a subsequent Chabrol film, “Les Cousins” (1958), are often cited as the opening volley of the French New Wave.

“Le Beau Serge” (“Handsome Serge”) is an acerbic study of a smug Parisian, François (Jean-Claude Brialy), who returns to the provincial village of his youth and attempts to rescue his former best friend, Serge (Gérard Blain), from a seemingly pointless, working-class existence. The film established the piercing antibourgeois themes that would shape much of the rest of Mr. Chabrol’s career. It also demonstrated, to a professionally closed and aesthetically conservative French film industry, that an outsider could break into the system and make a commercially successful, critically acclaimed film.

This lesson was not lost on his Cahiers colleagues. Mr. Truffaut followed Mr. Chabrol’s example with “The 400 Blows”(1959) and Mr. Godard with “Breathless” (1960), both of which became internationally successful and established La Nouvelle Vague (The New Wave) as a phenomenon.

While never quite equaling the fame of Mr. Truffaut and Mr. Godard, Mr. Chabrol continued to explore questions of class and sexuality in films like “Les Bonnes Femmes” (1959) and “L’Oeil du Malin” (1961). An unabashed admirer of the American cinema — he and the director Eric Rohmer co-authored an early and influential study of the work of Hitchcock in 1957 — Mr. Chabrol also happily accepted more commercial assignments, like the thriller “Landru” (1962) and the pulpy spy films “Le Tigre Aime la Chair Fraiche” (1964) and “Marie-Chantal Contre le Docteur Kha” (1965).

Like the Hollywood professionals he admired, Mr. Chabrol refused few of the projects that came his way, no matter how doubtful their origins. As a result, he averaged two or three films a year through the 1960s and 1970s, alternating personal films like “La Femme Infidèle”(1968) with international co-productions like the dual-language “La Decade Prodigieuse”/“Ten Days Wonder” (1971), starring Anthony Perkins, Michel Piccoli and Orson Welles.

Frequently working with the cameraman Jean Rabier and the screenwriter Paul Gégauff, Mr. Chabrol, in more than 50 films, developed an elegant, formally distant style, built around controlled camera movements that often seemed to be describing the imprisonment of his characters in a stifling social order. His style was studiously cool, his detachment from his characters disguising a deeper compassion for their plight as victims of a hypocritical middle-class moralism. He employed close-ups with discretion, as if he were declining to violate the privacy of his characters out of a concern for bourgeois propriety. But behind the well-bred manners could be found a sly, mocking sense of humor — a quality Mr. Chabrol carried over to his frequent appearances on French talk shows.

“Stupidity is infinitely more fascinating that intelligence,” Mr. Chabrol once observed. “Intelligence has its limits while stupidity has none. To observe a profoundly stupid individual can be very enriching, and that’s why we should never feel contempt for them.”

“Le Boucher” (1969), a Hitchcockian suspense film starring Stéphane Audran as a schoolteacher attracted to an Algerian war veteran (Jean Yanne) who may be a serial killer, became a commercial and critical hit in the United States Other films, like the broadly comic “Docteur Popaul” (1972) starring Jean-Paul Belmondo, were barely seen outside France. Referring to the uneven critical reception of his work, Mr. Chabrol is said to have remarked, “You have to accept the fact that sometimes you are the pigeon, and sometimes you are the statue.”

Mr. Chabrol made some 25 films with Ms. Audran, who was his wife from 1964 to 1980. Many of those belong to what has come to be known as the “Hélène” cycle after the name Mr. Chabrol frequently gave to the elegant, reserved but erotically vulnerable characters he created for her. In “Violette” (1977), Ms. Audran appeared as the mother of the main character, Violette Nozière, an obedient young woman secretly addicted to depravity, memorably played by Isabelle Huppert.

It was Ms. Huppert who took up the role of Mr. Chabrol’s muse when she was reunited with him for the 1988 “Story of Women,” and they worked together in a long series of films that included “Madame Bovary” (1990), “La Cérémonie” (1995) and “Comedy of Power” (2006). In 2008, he celebrated his 50th year as a filmmaker by working for the first time with another giant of the French cinema, the actor Gerard Depardieu, on the police thriller “Bellamy.”

Mr. Chabrol was born in Paris on June 24, 1930, the son of a pharmacist who dwelt in the same sort of bourgeois social environment that he went on to satirize. He spent much of his childhood in Sardent, a village in central France, where he passed the war years running a film club. He returned to Paris to study law (one of his classmates was Jean-Marie Le Pen, who became the leader of the right-wing National Front political party), but he dropped out to study pharmacology (his father’s profession), eventually ending up with a degree in literature.

His passion for the cinema led him first to a job as a publicist for Twentieth Century Fox, then to writing reviews and interviews for various publications including Art and Les Cahiers du Cinéma. He immersed himself in the city’s film culture and met other aspiring directors. In 1955, he and Mr. Truffaut interviewed Mr. Hitchcock on the set of “To Catch a Thief,” and two years later he and Mr. Rohmer wrote a book-length study of Mr. Hitchcock’s films.

He married Agnes Marie-Madeleine Goute, whose inheritance allowed him to establish his production company, in 1952 and had two sons with her, Jean-Yves and Mathieu Chabrol, the latter a composer who has scored most of his father’s films since the 1980s. His marriage to Stéphane Audran produced one son, Thomas, an actor who has appeared in many films for his father and other directors. Mr. Chabrol’s survivors also include his third wife, Aurore Pajot, who acted as his script supervisor on nearly all of his movies from 1968 on and whom he married in 1981, and Ms. Pajot’s daughter, Cécile Maistre, who was an assistant director on his films and co-wrote the script of “The Girl Cut in Two” (2007).

In 2004, Mr. Chabrol was awarded the European Film Prize for his body of work.

In a 2003 interview, Mr. Chabrol shrugged off those who labeled him the Gallic Hitchcock, but reassured his admirers that he would continue to make thrillers.

“I like using the thriller genre because when people go see a thriller — unless it’s really worthless — they never say, ‘We’ve wasted our time,’” he said. “It’s a good way to make people feel like going and not complain too much. Because you don’t make a film to express your ideas. You make a film to distract people, to interest them, perhaps to make them think, perhaps to help them be a little less naïve, a little better than they were.”

"In Memoriam Claude Chabrol"


Richard Brody

September 13th, 2010

The New Yorker

Parallels are perilous; it would be tempting to call Claude Chabrol, who died on Sunday at the age of eighty, the Falstaffian figure of the French New Wave (though his friend Paul Gégauff, who became his screenwriter as well as one of his stars, lived far more riotously and suffered for it far more grievously). But if Falstaff had lived in the twentieth century, he might well have made movies and been spared the royal rebuff, and he might have resembled the cheerfully caustic and openly hedonistic Chabrol.

Interviewed in Libération in 1995 about being in his sixties, he said, "Except for the fact that one fucks much less than at twenty—except for that horrible detail, everything is better"; and that newspaper interviewed him about his gourmandise twice, in 2003 and last year, upon the publication of the cookbook and film book "Chabrol Se Met à Table" ("Chabrol Sits Down to Eat"). The filmmaker liked to cite the country phrase "faire chabrol," which refers to the practice of pouring a bit of wine in a nearly empty bowl of soup and drinking the blend. His wide-rangingly cynical satire was aimed in particular at the pompous bourgeoisie, its assumptions of earned authority and hypocrisy of public honors. He was plus bourgeois que les bourgeois, but cavalier about it and unproud of it; he took his pleasures gleefully and without dissimulation, ostentation, or bien-pensant respect for the trappings of respectability, and he filmed the same way.

He was a movie buff who started writing for Cahiers du Cinéma at the age of twenty-three, in 1953 (with a piece about "Singin' in the Rain"); he co-wrote, with Eric Rohmer, a book about Hitchcock (which appeared in 1957). He was the practical man of the New Wave—starting in 1955, he worked as a publicist in the Paris office of Twentieth Century-Fox (and then helped Jean-Luc Godard get a job there too). He was the first of the New Wave filmmakers to make a feature, in 1957 ("Le Beau Serge")—he did so with an inheritance from his first wife's family—and with the money he made back from his first films, he financed the first features of his cohorts Rohmer and Jacques Rivette. His second film, from 1958, "Les Cousins," is one of his best. Set in the riotous milieu of Parisian students and their bohemian friends, it tells the classic story of the ant and the grasshopper—and it tilts all to the favor of the grasshopper. Here's Chabrol, in his very entertaining 1976 critical autobiography "Et Pourtant Je Tourne…" ("And, Yet, I Shoot…"),* on his classmates at the prestigious Institut d'Études Politiques in Paris, known as Sciences-Po, where he spent a miserable week:

They were pretentious kids, or else, children of worthies—heirs, heir-heads—or else, they were hard workers who were servile and en route to jerkification. They all stank of caste, self-importance, pedantry. Their ignorance of life, of people, was gross. They perorated in two vocal registers: the haughty and worldly, in order to drip, like dowagers, such lines as "What a world" or "It's crazy"; the other—doctoral—to dissertate on nonsense without having taken the trouble to think, or to look anywhere but in a book…. And yet it's a matter of our daily existence, because we are stupid enough to let these pipsqueaks govern us, legislate for us, administer us.

This sublime venom infuses his best films; besides "Les Cousins," there's "Les Bonnes Femmes," from 1960, which seethes with derision equally for the unhappy drudges who run a small store and the fanciful young women who, while toiling there, harbor romantic dreams and illusions. It's worth mentioning a hysterically extravagant movie unavailable here on video, "Les Godelureaux" (meaning "smooth operators"), from 1961, a movie of a rare emotional sadism, a portrait of frivolous youth in its naïve and sentimental varieties, a dazzling catalogue of cinephilic winks and nods along with the emotional registers to match, a depiction of a primordial toga party to end all toga parties, a quasi-documentary on the artistic happenings of the day; it is perhaps the most sumptuously bourgeois of his anti-bourgeois outrages. Recently, there's "The Comedy of Power," from 2006, in which Chabrol depicts happy wickedness with wry sympathy: a high-placed government official (Isabelle Huppert) who prosecutes a businessman for insider trading turns out to be a narrow, joyless scold, unlike the expansive, carnal, if arrogant, target of her investigation. His last feature, "Bellamy," a police drama starring Gérard Depardieu, is scheduled for release here soon.

Chabrol was the cinematic equivalent of a graphomaniac—in fifty-two years, he made about seventy films, and the haste sometimes showed, in positive and negative ways. Following the ideal of the Hollywood studio director that stopped existing around the time his own career started, Chabrol made commissioned films, personal films, films in many genres (though he made the detective story and the Hitchcockian suspense thriller something of a specialty), films on high and low budgets, and the result was a sort of automatic writing in which the personality—insolent and sybaritic, easygoing and paradoxical, deeply intelligent yet casually superficial, passionate yet capable of stunning detachment—shines through unmistakably. At his best, he was, simply, the peer of his peers.


*A pun on Galileo's "And yet it moves"—in French, "et pourtant elle tourne"—"tourner" means "to turn" and also "to shoot [a film]." As for the book, it features the wonderful title-page credit, "cameraman and editor, René Marchand."

No comments: