Chabrol Dies at 80: Leader of New Wave Cinema

Seminal French director and one of the founders of the French New Wave of the late 1950s and early 1960s, Claude Chabrol, who delightedly punctured the pompous mores of the French bourgeoisie in films such as “The Cousins,” "An Unfaithful Wife" and "A Judgement in Stone", died. Born on June 24, 1930, he was 80
 
A beloved figure in France, his films did not attract as much attention abroad as some of his New Wave contemporaries such as Francois Truffaut. Like his New Wave colleagues Jean-Luc Godard, Eric Rohmer and Truffaut, Chabrol began developing his ideas about filmmaking in the 1950s working as a critic and essayist on Andre Bazin's celebrated film magazine Cahiers du Cinema.
 
He was particularly knowledgeable about the films of Alfred Hitchcock whose fascination with the nature of evil he shared leading him to co-author a seminal book on the English director with Rohmer.
 
Unlike his Cahier du Cinema colleagues, who all began their careers making short films, Chabrol plunged straight into making his first feature "Bitter Rupture" (1958), benefiting from an inheritance his first wife had received.
 
Chabrol's accomplished debut about two childhood friends, whose lives have led them in radically different directions, began the New Wave tradition of true-to-life, often autobiographical films made cheaply, fast and on location as opposed to in the studio.
 
Chabrol averaged almost a film a year ever since and continued to direct well into to the end of his life. In 2009 he received the Berlinale Camera Lifetime Achievement Award neatly mirroring the Golden Bear he had won 50 years earlier for his second film "Les Cousins".
 
Chabrol elicited a magnetic performance from Jean-Claude Brialy in "Cousins" as a dissolute city slicker, with Gerard Blain playing neatly off him as his tenderfoot cousin. Both thesps had already starred in "Bitter Rupture".
 
This willingness to collaborate with the same actors on more than one occasion set a pattern for the rest of Chabrol's career. Asked why, he replied with characteristic common-sense: "I work with actors I know, so I can feel when they're not happy."
 
One of his most successful collaborations was with second wife Stephane Audran who featured prominently in over twenty of his films, including "Violette Noziere" (1978) a pitch black comedy about a mother daughter rivalry which earned Audran a Cesar for best supporting actress. Audran's co-star in "Violette" was Isabelle Huppert who won the best actress award at Cannes for playing the daughter.
 
It was the beginning of another fruitful collaboration for Chabrol spanning eight films including stand-out roles for Huppert as an amateur abortionist in "Story of Women" (1988) and a callous killer in "A Judgement in Stone" (1995). When Chabrol finally decided to adapt Flaubert's classic novel "Madame Bovary" which had obsessed him ever since reading it as a teenager he went straight to Huppert for the part of the tragically self-absorbed Emma Bovary.
 
Born in Paris to parents who were both chemists, he was sent away to the village of Sardent in the central Creuse region when World War II broke out. While living in Sardent he set up a cine-club, eventually returning there to shoot his first film "Bitter Rupture". After the war Chabrol moved back to Paris to study law but instead spent much of his time watching films at the Paris Cinematheque. From 1952-1957 Chabrol worked for Cahiers du Cinema and had a stint as a publicist for Fox. It was during these years that Chabrol struck up a lasting friendship with the novelist Paul Gegauff eight years his senior.
 
Gegauff wrote earthy dialogue for many of Chabrol's best early films including "Cousins", "The Good Time Girls" (1960) about four Parisian shop girls, "Bad Girls" (1968) about an affair between two beautiful women and "This Man Must Die" (1969) which played out like Greek tragedy.
 
Chabrol's remarkably fertile period during the late 1960s and early 1970s continued with films such as "The Unfaithful Wife" (1969) a cold and cynical dissection of a bourgeois marriage and "The Butcher" (1970) about a serial killer's banal quotidian existence. Chabrol was frequently on inspired form when he adapted pulp fiction by crime writers like Ruth Rendall and Georges Simenon or when he dug into the nitty-gritty of grisly news items. He was less surefooted when dealing with more classic source material like "Madame Bovary" (1989) which he adapted with exaggerated respect and "The Blood of Others" (1984) a long-winded adaptation of a Simone de Beauvoir novel starring Jodie Foster.
 
In his last few years as a director Chabrol's filmmaking was as efficient as a well oiled machine. Pics like "Flower of Evil" (2003) and "A Girl Cut in Two" (2007) showed that he had lost none of his dramatic flair for unwrapping festering family secrets. His 2009 "Bellamy" starred Gerard Depardieu.
 
Chabrol's sets often resembled big family gatherings with his third wife Aurore Chabrol providing script supervision, older son Matthieu Chabrol invariably composing the score and younger son thesp Thomas Chabrol frequently essaying a role.   Chabrol is survived by all three.
 

 

 

 

 

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