Claude Chabrol died today, and though some will accept his passing with a Gallic shrug, it still feels like a loss, and that despite the fact that he leaves behind dozens of films — not all of them good. Given his role in the founding of the French New Wave movement and his spot on a historical-creative nexus, his death collapses part of the larger web of ideas. If his work remains, we’ve still lost a presence and the archival memory of one who not only lived through but who fully grasped a certain era. One of two men who had to endure the “French Hitchcock” label (along with Clouzot), Chabrol wound up being considered by some to be a genre director rather than an auteur, however thoughtful and influential his early pieces were. But just because Les Bonnes Femmes — an ambivalent glimpse at Parisian shopgirls and the men who groped them in 1960 — ends with a woodsy murder scene doesn’t nullify the commentary that preceded it or weaken Chabrol’s New Wave thrust. This man could create a mood, and he could direct an actor like nobody’s business — we rarely see performances like these in thrillers, or such an attention to dynamic detail, or the disturbing unspoken that percolates in the background scenery or in the pauses between words and acts. Chabrol’s catalogue is intimidating in size, but Les Bonnes Femmes, Les Biches, La Rupture, The Butcher, The Cry of the Owl, and the The Flower of Evil are evidence of his strengths, mixed in however much they are with his weaknesses. I’m only 20 films or so into his oeuvre (I still haven’t seen Le Beau Serge or This Man Must Die), but I’ve already determined that it’s his better films that are indicators of what it is we’ve lost today. – Ranylt Richildis
Related: a retrospective on The Butcher.