Friday, March 27, 2015


Francois (Jean-Claude Brialy) returns to his small French hometown after several years away; he has spent some time in a TB sanitarium and is searching for rest, and also, it seems, something to center his life. He is shocked to find that this former best friend Serge (Gerard Blain) has become a drunken wastrel who doesn't even recognize him at first. Serge does menial delivery work and is unhappily married. His wife Yvonne had a stillborn child who the doctors said would have been mentally damaged if he had lived; now she's pregnant again and Serge, convinced that there is "bad blood" in their commingling, is certain that this will result in another tragedy, so he spends every moment that he's not working shitfaced drunk. Francois decides that he can help to rehabilitate Serge, and thinking that Yvonne is to blame for his depression, he suggests that Serge leave her. Soon Francois falls in love with Marie (Bernadette Lafont) who lives with a man who may or may not be her father, and when a (possibly) incestuous attack takes place, he begins to think that Serge's problems may have to do with something about village life itself that takes its toll on everyone.

This film by Claude Chabrol is often considered one of the first New Wave (Nouvelle Vague) film, but unlike other contenders for that title (Godard's BREATHLESS, Resnais' HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR), there seems to be little groundbreaking stylistically here. In fact, it reminded me more of older films set in small French villages, like Bresson's DIARY OF A COUNTRY PRIEST or Clouzot's LE CORBEAU. I enjoyed it, but it doesn't feel "new wavish" to me; there's no chopping-up of chronology or narrative, no camera tricks that call attention to themselves. Where I thought this was going was that the pretentious big-city guy would get his ass handed to him by the sly country folk, but actually it's a little bit like a rustic Peyton Place, and the big-city guy does indeed get to help out, and is helped himself a bit, even though he does have to suffer through a few missteps. Brialy (on the left in the picture at left) is solid as the somewhat bookish, rootless guy who needs to be needed, but Blain (on the right) is even better as the handsome brooder who seems well on the road to self-destruction. Blain was sometimes referred to as a French James Dean though he's got a lighter touch—he is very sexy and seems more natural in his role than anyone else in the cast. It was shot on location in the actual village where Chabrol grew up and actual townfolk have some speaking parts. [TCM]

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