Claude Chabrol: 1930 – 2010 (Just After Nightfall)

chabrol.jpgNot that he was ever compared unfavorably with his Nouvelle Vague brethren, but the late Claude Chabrol (left, in 1979 with actress Bernadette Lafont and his wife Stephane Audran) was considered the steadiest, least flashy of the bunch, with the faint whiff of patronization that implies. Where Godard was off manning the barricades of art, politics, and cinema, and Truffaut was reliving his youth and obsessing about women, and Rohmer was dissecting emotion in great arias of chatter, and the mysterious Rivette was fashioning marathon exercises in paranoia and the creative process, Chabrol was -- well, he was making dramatic thrillers. Where's the ambition in that?

In the craft, bien sur, and in the slow accretion of damning social portraiture that stretches from his first film, 1958's "Le Beau Serge", pretty much to the end (2007's penultimate "A Girl Cut in Two"). On the surface, Chabrol's visual style was polite, discreet, and occasionally glacial, but if you looked closer, you saw that every camera move was a scalpel wielded by a master surgeon who could fillet bourgeois pretension and reveal the beast within the civilized man. Chabrol wasn't a moralist or a cynic -- instead, he was torn between cool amusement and muted horror at the ways in which the human animal mistreats his own kind. If he had a kindred filmmaking spirit, it was probably Luis Bunuel, but whereas the great Spaniard eviscerated his targets with love and surrealism, Chabrol hung back and let his chic, murderous characters hang themselves.

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