Having only seen one other film by Claude Chabrol, and having not really been that impressed with it, I didn’t have too many expectations going into Chabrol’s other earlier list film, The Butcher. The Book’s entry didn’t give me too much to look forward to either, and my usual bits of research turned up very little. So, I pretty much said to hell with it and went in relatively blind. Imagine my surprise when this turned out to be pretty good overall; there’s some issues with the technicals, but the mood of the film far outweighs any detractions.
Stephane Audran plays Helene, the headmistress and teacher at the local school of a smallish French town. At a wedding party, she strikes up a conversation with the butcher of the title, Popaul, and they begin a platonic relationship, all while talk spreads of a murder of a young woman the police are investigating around town. Now, it would of course seem, at first glance, that the subplot of the murder is just that; a subplot for color and context, but if you’ve been reading this blog for some time, you should know that Chekhov’s Gun tells us that any story elements included in the story should damn well be of some importance to the story, or they shouldn’t be there at all. I’ll leave the rest to your watching this film to experience it for yourself. Being technically a thriller, the film keeps things ambiguous through most of the runtime, but that’s about it for this being a thriller by-the-books. The film is much more concerned with building up its universe and the relationships between the characters, and in this vein, it succeeds pretty well. It’s also helped along by some of the most eerie music I’ve heard in some time, and the music would be this way even when the scene or setting didn’t call for it, which I found a little odd, but it did help keep a “Is something going to happen?” atmosphere through most of the picture. Also, after the story of the film ends, there’s a sequence following it that seemed to have no bearing on advancing the plot in any way; only to have the film end as ambiguously as possible, so heads up.
I suspect, as I’ve done in the past, that this is mainly on the list as representation for its director, as it seems some of the important directors get one slot for their prime work, and another for their later work, as Chabrol has with The Story of Women. Still, this was better than Chabrol’s other film that I’ve seen, so I’ll mark that down as a win. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how predictable the storyline of the film is, so some people might be turned off watching this as they can see everything coming a mile away, but the atmosphere still worked really well for me, which was more than I was expecting, so this might still be worth a look for you as well.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10