A Double Dose of Claude Chabrol: 'Just Before Nightfall' and 'Twist'

Some artists stake out the mean streets as their territory. For Claude Chabrol, it was the mean boulevards, the haunts of the repectable.

Just Before Nightfall

Rated: Not rated
DVD: Just Before Nightfall
Director: Claude Chabrol
Cast: Michel Bouquet, Stéphane Audran
Year: 1971
Distributor: Pathfinder
Release date: 2011-03-01

In 50 years, Claude Chabrol quietly turned out some 50 movies, the lion's share about adultery and murder among the right class of people. Some artists stake out the mean streets as their territory. For Chabrol, it was the mean boulevards, the haunts of the repectable. Pathfinder has recently released two of the '70s films starring his then-wife, Stéphane Audran.

Just Before Nightfall (Juste Avante la Nuit) opens with high, disorienting style. As Pierre Jansen's music surges, we close in on a Paris apartment building. Suddenly we see Charles Masson (Michel Bouquet) in sweaty close-up on the left, utter blackness filling the screen before him. He peers into an abyss.

Just as suddenly and theatrically, the background lights up garishly to reveal a recessed, blue-wallpapered area where a naked woman stretches upon a bed like a panther, beckoning him to come play. She demands that he strangle her. He does, in a manner more impassive and symbolic than visceral. The colors of this whole sequence, probably through digital restoration, are vibrant.

The rest of the film is the brooding aftermath. Charles owns a PR firm and has written a novel. He has a lovely, understanding wife (Audran) and two children and a black au pair girl, all living in an amazingly swank modern house designed by the architect next door. Said architect (Francois Périer) is also Charles' best friend, not to mention the husband of the murdered mistress. But was she murdered? As we see it and as Charles describes it later, there's an element of being at the victim's mercy, as though it were suicide by request. This is important to think about for the film's wrap-up.

The theme is guilt and the different means and motives of rationalizing it for the various characters. At its simplest, Charles wants to be punished. We could say that he wants to deserve punishment. We sense that he seeks punishment not only for one action or its circumstances but an entire lifestyle of success. He wanted this house, with a glass-walled bedroom looking down upon the living area, because he was afraid that becoming bourgeois would clog his arteries and a modern house would keep him healthy. (Dialogue says this literally.) If we regard the hyper-dreamlike mistress symbolically, she might represent the dream of success that kills you. "Nobody is responsible for what they do in a nightmare," one character tells him.

The film's ideas beg to be more fully analysed, but it can't be done without giving away the few events that follow in the wake of the opening nightmare. There's also a subplot about a possible embezzlement at the ad agency and the older man suspected of it, who may be caught up in his own nightmare. When a client sees his TV commercial, an inane thing about a magician and a washing machine, he shouts with satisfaction "That's exactly what I wanted!" The implication is that getting what you want isn't always recommended.

With its beautiful women and frumpy men, its gorgeous decorations, its smooth beady-eyed camerawork, its coiled ironies and resonances, and its carefully unwinding, nearly stifling observation of the protagonist's psychology, this is high Chabrol. His sequence of films starring Audran can be seen as variations on each other, and this one especially feels like a counterpart to The Unfaithful Wife with Audran and Bouquet virtually in the same roles.

DVD: Twist

Film: Twist

Director: Claude Chabrol

Cast: Stéphane Audran, Bruce Dern, Ann-Margret

Year: 1976

Rated: Not rated

Release date: 2011-03-22

Distributor: Pathfinder

Rating: 4

Extras rating: N/A

Image:'s last film for Chabrol was Twist (1976). That's the onscreen title; the package calls it The Twist and the French version is known as Folies Bourgeoises. Audran plays the wife of an American novelist (Bruce Dern). She's carrying on with publisher Jean-Pierre Cassel, and all is fine until she realizes hubby is having his own affair with Ann-Margret. Audran starts going crazy and having cartoonish fantasies of sex and violence as she forcibly relocates her husband to a falling-down mansion in the country, upon which he starts having his own fantasies about her infidelities and the various beautiful women around him.

For my money, Chabrol's typical themes don't fit so well into wacky-comedy mode (given that French wacky comedies usually are no funnier than American ones) and not so easily into surreal-fantasy mode either. The chicly transgressive dreams seem intended to remind us of Luis Buñuel's French films of this era, but it suffers in the comparison. Where the film wants to be frothy and sexy, it looks grating. What tries to look smart looks dumb.

Lots of big stars are thrown away in cameos -- Maria Schell as the maid, Curd Jurgens as a jeweler, Tomas Milian as a private detective, Charles Aznavour as a doctor whose bizarre tics don't add up to a character. At least Sybil Danning's topless appearance is keyed into her talents.

My impression of this labored lark isn't helped by the uncomfortable English dialogue, which isn't so easy to follow amid a strangely reverberant sound mix. The French dub (an alternate option) has a cleaner sound but the obvious dubbing is distracting and clearly doesn't use Dern's voice, although even his English delivery sounds awkward. This print also doesn't look as "restored" as the other film.






Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.


Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.


Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.


Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.


Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.


Sally Anne Morgan Invites Us Into a Metaphorical Safe Space on 'Thread'

With Thread, Sally Anne Morgan shows that traditional folk music is not to be smothered in revivalist praise. It's simply there as a seed with which to plant new gardens.


Godcaster Make the Psych/Funk/Hard Rock Debut of the Year

Godcaster's Long Haired Locusts is a swirling, sloppy mess of guitars, drums, flutes, synths, and apparently whatever else the band had on hand in their Philly basement. It's a highly entertaining and listenable album.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.