News

A pair of gems from French filmmaker Claude Chabrol

Chris Vognar
The Dallas Morning News (MCT)

Claude Chabrol

It's strange to think of Claude Chabrol as a French New Wave pioneer after all these years. While some new wavers have passed on (Francois Truffaut) and others have taken a nosedive into navel-gazing irrelevancy (Jean-Luc Godard), Chabrol just keeps cranking out unnerving little psychological dramas, often revolving around crime, seven of them featuring his muse, Isabelle Huppert.

With his edginess and his passion for Huppert, it's easier to associate him with more contemporary French-language filmmakers, including Michael Haneke and Francois Ozon (both of whom also worship at the altar of Isabelle), then with his original gang.

This week Koch Lorber delivers the first and most recent Chabrol/Huppert collaborations on DVD. "Violette" (1978) is the chilling tale of a beautiful teenage sociopath taking her parents for a deadly ride in pre-World War II Paris. "Comedy of Power" (2006) is a chilly portrait of a dogged French magistrate who coolly takes down an old boys network of corporate corruption. Neither DVD comes packed with extras, but the films speak for themselves.

American audiences probably know Huppert best for her work with the indie filmmakers Hal Hartley ("Amateur") and David O. Russell ("I Heart Huckabees"). But it's her French films that established her as a sort of inscrutable porcelain goddess with an unbreakable gaze and relentless demeanor, a little screwed up but tough as nails. Her character's nickname in "Comedy of Power" is "the piranha." At one point the piranha's husband calls her "smooth as stone." Both descriptions are pretty apt, but there's also something dangerously sexy beneath, or perhaps even because of, the icy exterior.

The piranha needs a vacation, but she never takes one. She's too busy bringing down bigwigs who think they can play her because she's a woman. Single minded, obsessive, quietly righteous, eerily confident, she was born to seek out and destroy corruption of any kind. Chabrol depicts her progress with a minimum of narrative fuss or shtick; if she's a piranha, then he's a shark, churning forward with little wasted effort. He's also a bit of a feminist who relishes his heroine's severity. When the judge's boss tries to throw her off the scent of her volatile case, he pairs her with another strong-willed woman, thinking they will tear each other to pieces. He's wrong. It's the men who rat each other under the piranha's methodical methods.

Both "Comedy" and the superior "Violette" thrive on a jagged sense of moral ambiguity, teasingly inviting the audience to apply black-and-white standards to hazy shades of gray. It's hard to feel sympathy for the spoiled murderer at the heart of "Violette." She lies to her parents and scams her lovers before moving on to deadlier business. But the adult world around her, at home and out in the world, is also deeply compromised, and Violette is expert at playing this compromise to her advantage. Is she a devil or a victim? Chabrol never lets us settle on one answer, because he knows the tension is driving the drama.

Compromise, of course, is a big part of the French World War II legacy, and we're meant to connect the historical to the personal in a film made some 30 years after the war ended. But Chabrol, even with his interest in bourgeois rot, is no polemicist. A student of Hitchcock, he's more concerned with what people do to each other than the external forces at work. His battleground is the psyche. And he's still firing off rounds at age 76, in an era when the New Wave and most of its heroes have been consigned to text books.

___

VIOLETTE

Grade: A-minus

Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Stephane Audran, Jean Carmet, Jean-Francois Garreaud and Guy Hoffman. Directed by Claude Chabrol. Not rated (nudity, sexual content, violence). 123 min. $24.98.

COMEDY OF POWER

Grade: B-plus

Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Francoise Berleand and Patrick Bruel. Directed by Claude Chabrol. Not rated (language, violence). 110 min. $29.98.

Music
Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

PopMatters Seeks Music Critics and Essayists

If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by the quality readership of PopMatters.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Books
Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Film
Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Film

The Road to Murder in Love and War: Three Films from Claude Chabrol

The character's in Claude Chabrol's The Third Lover, Line of Demarcation, and The Champagne Murders are obsessively doubled and mirrored, reflecting and refracting their hunger for sex, love, money, and power.

Film

'Memento' Is the Movie of the Attention Economy

We are afraid of time, and so like Leonard in Memento, we kill it, compulsively and indiscriminately.

Film

What Lurks Beneath: 'Jaws' and Political Leadership in the Time of COVID-19

Boris Johnson admires the Mayor in Spielberg's Jaws. Remember him? He was the guy who wouldn't close the beaches -- and sacrifice that revenue source -- during a public crisis.

Recent
Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Music

The Killers - "Caution" (Singles Going Steady)

The Killers go for the big hooks and singable anthems on "Caution", but opinion is sharply divided about the song's merits amongst our Singles Going Steady panel.

Music

Lilly Hiatt - "Some Kind of Drug" (Singles Going Steady)

Lilly Hiatt sings about a different kind of love on "Some Kind of Drug". Hers is for a city and the impact gentrification has had its soul.

Music

There's Never Enough Time for Folk Music's James Elkington

The sometimes Wilco and Richard Thompson sideman, in-demand producer, and songwriter, James Elkington, muses on why it's taking longer than he expects to achieve more in a week than most of us get done in a lifetime.

Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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