Claude Chabrol (writer and director) Le boucher (The Butcher) / 1970
Despite the statements of numerous critics that Chabrol's film Le boucher is filled with questions that are slowly answered over the course of the movie and, as Netflix's site quotes Adam Gai, "The audience is kept in suspense up until the last shot," I would argue that in this work Chabrol has created his most unthrilling thriller. For it is a work that has utterly no surprises, and because of that fact Chabrol is freed to show us film-making at its most abstract. We witness the process without having to be emotionally involved in plot.
Some of this lack of suspense occurs because, basically, there are only two characters in the film. The young married couple of the first scenes appear only briefly, despite the fact that the male is supposed to be a teacher in the same school where the central character, Helene Daville teaches. Although some of her students are more memorable than others, particularly the young man to whom she is trying to teach mathematics one late night, they are, nonetheless, as are the inhabitants of the small village near the Cougnac Caves where she lives, ancillary figures, unimportant to events. Even the mildly bothersome Police Inspector Grumbach offers little in the way of substance. Other than the beautiful and emotionally reserved Helene (Stéphane Audran) there is only her suitor, Popaul (Jean Yanne), a war-veteran who has just returned to his hometown to take up his father's business as a butcher.
Popaul: I've seen a corpse or two—their heads in the wind, cut in half, mouth
open. I've seen three or four piled together. Kids with their eyes punctured.
Indo-Chinese as old as Madame Tirrant completely torn to bits. I've seen pals
of mine rotting in the sun, being eaten by maggots.
Were we to encounter Popaul today, I would guess that many of us might suggest he seek help from a psychiatrist.
Popaul: But, shit, if I kissed you now, what would you say?
Helene: I'd say nothing, but please don't.
In short, she will not out rightly reject love were it to make its demands; she is simply attempting to protect herself so that love will make no demands. She is, in other words, a passive being; unlike Popaul, who makes things happen, who brings her food, fixes her lights, paints her rooms, who, in fact, admits that he wants to "look after her," Helene can do nothing but exist, glowing in her beauty much like the light(er) she gives him. It is no accident that she provides the fire for the cut of meat his has brought her.
Los Angeles, November 20, 2010