Le Boucher (Chabrol, 1970)

Everyone talks about the connections between Chabrol and Hitchcock, but what about the French master’s stylistic similarities with Robert Altman? Maybe someone has brought this up before (seeing I’m watching Chabrol for the first time), but the roving zooms, emphasis on ambient sound, and long takes in Chabrol’s hypnotic serial killer film Le Boucher especially remind me of Altman more than anyone else. This steadied, almost lyrical approach to the thriller genre provides an unending amount of discomfort while building toward something horrific.

Le Boucher follows the relationship between a butcher and a headmistress, a romantic entanglement framed by the growing unrest over a serial killer striking a rural French town. Chabrol uses emotional response to play with the viewers expectations about character and genre. In fact, every aspect of Le Boucher, from the aforementioned filmmaking techniques to the muted and stoic performances, subverts the thriller genre, mixing extreme formal devices to reveal Chabrol’s patented spatial menace. While the end result comes across as a bit pretentious, one can’t help but revel in the somber and intoxicating process of repressed desire and brutal, offscreen murder.

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