BEIRUT: “Des Miroirs et des Masques” (Mirrors and Masks), the latest film cycle at Metropolis Cinema-Sofil, is a retrospective of works by French filmmaker Claude Chabrol. The 11-film program opens Sunday.
Like his contemporary Jean-Luc Godard, Chabrol (1930-2010) is a legendary figure in the filmmaking history of his country and the world. A pioneer of the France’s “Nouvelle Vague” (The New Wave), Chabrol made films that challenged his audiences to tease some form of truth from the conflict between conventional thinking and the immense changes sweeping across the face of the 20th century.
Along with Italian neorealism, the New Wave was one of the pioneering trends in post-World War II art house film, answering the stale formal and narrative conventions of commercial cinema (and the cultural premises underlying them) in ways that approximated Modernism’s response to late-19th-century literary norms.
The New Wave’s experimentation was unique both because so many of the movement’s filmmakers started their careers as film critics, and because its stylistic innovations remain among the most-often referenced by contemporary filmmakers.
The retrospective opens with “Le Boucher” (The Butcher, 1970). The film is set in the now-extinct French county of Perigord, where several women have been slaughtered. A young teacher named Helene (Stéphane Audran) will come to suspect her friend Popaul, the titular butcher, of being responsible for the crimes. The film deals with repression and depression, and how one can unconsciously guide another into committing wrongdoings.
The eponymous anti-hero of “Betty” (Marie Trintignant) is an alcoholic who is thrown out of her house when she’s caught cheating on her husband. At a restaurant called “Le Trou” (The Hole), she meets Laure, an older woman who takes pity on her. Having taken Betty under her wing, Laure begins to suspect that her new friend wants to seduce her partner, Mario.
Mirrors and Masks also gives Beirut audiences a chance to revisit Chabrol’s “Le Beau Serge” (The Handsome Serge, 1958), the film credited with getting the New Wave started, which was first shown here at the Metropolis’ 2012 Nouvelle Vague retrospective.
It tells the story of two old pals – the tubercular Francois (Jean-Claude Brialy), who’s just returned to his village after years away, and his old friend Serge (Gerard Blain), now drowning in booze. Although his wife Yvonne is pregnant with their second child, Serge betrays little interest in her. Francois feels himself forced to rescue his friend from his life, never doubting that he has right to do so.
Chabrol was among those who brought New Wave style to genre film. “L’Inspecteur Lavardin” (Detective Lavardin, 1986) is the French answer to the detective thriller. The story focuses on Lavardin’s investigation of the murder of Catholic writer Raoul Mons, which is strangely complicated when the inspector (Jean Poiret) discovers that Mons’ widow is his own teenage sweetheart.
Starring the beautiful Emmanuelle Béart, before she got her lips done, “L’Enfer” (1994) focuses on cranky Paul (Francois Cluzet) who, suspecting his wife (Béart) is cheating on him, goes mad with jealousy. This cinematographic chef d’oeuvre features such Chabrol leitmotifs as family and questionable behavior, as well his favoured location of Provence.
“Les Biches” (1968) immerses the audience in the complicated relationship of two women Frederique (Stephane Audan) and Why (Jacqueline Sassard), adding to the mix Paul Thomas (Jean-Louis Trintignant), the man who would insinuate himself between them. Considered by many to be Chabrol’s masterpiece, this love triangle has fatality written all over it.
Chabrol’s returns to one of his favorite themes with the “La Femme Infidele” (The Unfaithful Wife, 1969), in which the filmmaker utilizes his talent demonstrating how sentiments can be turned into dreadful and deadly weapons. Again, irony, dark humor and lethal passion are the hallmarks of “Femme.”
In “La Fille Coupee en Deux” (The Girl Cut in Two, 2007), the eponymous female is Ludivine Sagnier, a weather anchor in love with a writer who is much older than her. Again, Chabrol mingles the annoying bourgeoisie with love and passion to create a film that, notwithstanding its stately (aka “slow”) pace, is still capable of surprises.
Murder and their investigations are recurring themes in the films “Que la Bete Meure” (This Man Must Die, 1969) – inspired by Nicholas Blake’s novel “The Best Must Die” – “La Fleur du Mal” (The Flower of Evil, 2003) and “La Ceremonie” (The Ceremony, 1995). The narratives of all deal include the sudden appearance of a corpse, a murdered son and vengeful maids.
As Alfred Hitchcock was once the monument of British film, Chabrol epitomizes French cinema. His films portray a France whose face is provincial, bourgeois and somewhat arrogant, but with something darker percolating beneath.
“Des Miroirs et des Masques” will screen at Metropolis Cinema Sofil from Jan. 26 until Feb. 5. For more information, please visit www.metropoliscinema.net