Backlog #24: Les Biches (1968)

The earliest of the Chabrol films I watched. This one was a psychological thriller (purely so, no detective theme here), a quite sophisticated one about a mature, stylish lady (of means and leisure) taking a young, beautiful tearaway (enigmatically named Why) off the street and keeping her under her lesbian wing. The scene moves from Paris to a sybaritic country retreat in Provence, where Frederique (the elder partner) serenely keeps an erratic villa with a pair of excessively camp hangers-on and company. This menagerie is contrasted with the rustic surroundings of the nearby town – all this is set well out of season, whose nocturnal light I quite liked.

Then we all encounter Paul, a handsome architect (or was he a boat builder?) who Why falls for first, before her patroness in turn supersedes her by seducing him. He is impressively restrained in manner (i.e. he is far from the dominant character in this movie), which encourages Frederique to swiftly discharge her camp followers, with the exception of Why, who now unwillingly has a role akin to a step daughter – tragedy thus follows.

I found Les Biches a stylish film with an interesting scenario well realised. It glides along on the small amount of plot it has – for large chunks of time not a lot really happens. Chabrol’s collaborators (Audran, Rabier, Jansen) do a first class job (as they will continue to prolifically). This film begins his crimes of passion cycle, but it lacks the explorations into morality and guilt, that his greater films contain.

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