In what is considered the first film of the French New Wave, Claude Chabrol gives us a hypnotic vision of opposites in the same style as Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt. Le Beau Serge follows the story of Francois, a young man who returns to his home town after twelve years, who finds that the town is dying. His landlady even tells him that everyone will be gone soon enough. In particular, he finds that a once-promising childhood friend, Serge, is trapped as an alcoholic in a loveless marriage.
The brilliance of the film lies not in its storytelling (it is quite slow at parts) nor its acting (most of the actors were non-professionals) but in its structure. Everything is seen in doubles. Francois and Serge are two sides to the same coin. Each has an elder counterpart. Each has a female relation which seems to switch off at times. Serge has both a wife and a mistress who is at one point Francois girlfriend; at the same time, Serge's wife becomes morally attached to Francois. In addition, scenes are doubled; two scenes in the cemetary, two implied sexual scenes in Glomaud's home, two turns by Francois and Michel at the beginning, the list goes on and on. Furthermore, entire shots are doubled with different couples in each. It is brilliant.
In addition, the film looks as if it were unpolished (which is a basic tenet of the New Wave), but it looks as if it was a director's first attempt. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.
The greatest detraction (apart from the sometimes overacting) is the musical score. It is extremely discordant with regards to the movie. Minimal scenes such as Serge exiting his house are accompanies by percussion that sounds as if it were a harbinger of doom. I don't know if Chabrol wanted this, but it becomes irritating and causes the viewer to laugh at the film.
As an added note, watch for the parallels of Francois and Serge with the town's children. The kids pop up everywhere