21 September 2010

Claude Chabrol

Huppert and Chabrol
(Please note the matching outfits.)

The recent death of French director Claude Chabrol has given rise to a number of tributes and retrospectives of his films, both in repertory cinemas (because we have those here in France) and on television. This is helpful, because his output was vast: although I’ve seen much of his work, I feel as if I’ve only scratched the surface.

Last night, his film Merci pour le chocolat (2000) was on TV, and I caught a tiny detail that gives you a good idea of Chabrol’s sly sense of humor. In the film, a wealthy Swiss woman (Isabelle Huppert, Chabrol’s principal muse in recent years) becomes convinced that her teenage stepson (Rodolphe Pauly) is not in fact her husband’s child. Was he switched at birth with Jeanne (Anna Mouglalis), a young pianist who seems so much more like the stepchild Huppert should have had? And if so, what should Mom do about it? Would poison provide the answer? And would a cup of hot chocolate be the place to put it?

Probably not the ideal Mothers Day gift:
Pauly and Huppert in a scene from the film.

In addition to being an unsparing critic of the bourgeoisie, Chabrol was an avid student of Hitchcock, and no one in France has known better how to play suspense. He could leave you squirming for the entire length of a movie, then surprise you at the end. So we watch as Huppert menaces (or does not menace) her son (who may not be her son).

At one point, toward the end of the film, after Pauly has consumed several cups of chocolate, and after Huppert has accidentally (or on purpose) injured him, we see him lying in his bedroom, watching TV. Mom comes in to check on him. And as they talk, the camera moves around the room. There, by the television set, stands a doll, offering silent warning as to what may (possibly) happen next.

Oh, my God, she’s going to kill Kenny! You bastards!

And that, dear readers, is a glimpse of Claude Chabrol’s humor. Blink, and you’ll miss it — and Chabrol has a few more surprises in store for you before the picture is done. But it’s one more reason I’m looking forward to reacquainting myself with his feisty, unpredictable oeuvre.

1 comment:

Xenan said...

Un très bon réalisateur qui nous a quitté... Qu'il repose en paix. J'aime beaucoup son film "La Demoiselle d'Honneur".