"The Butcher," ("Le boucher") (1969) is one of the best-known films of French director Claude Chabrol, (The Claude Chabrol Collection [DVD
]), one of the leading lights of the French school of film-making known as the new wave (le nouvelle vague); he just passed quite recently. It's in full, gorgeous color, set in the lush, highly fertile, mountainous region of Perigord, France, and, aside from perhaps some clothes that look odd to a contemporary eye, has hardly dated at all. It's a cerebral, rather abstract drama/thriller, built along thoughtful, slower, European lines rather than fast, fast, fast American; still, it clocks in at a taut 93 minutes, and is considered to show the strong influence of Alfred Hitchcock, thriller director par excellence (Hitchcock 14 Disc Box Set [DVD
Elegantly beautiful Stephane Audran (La Femme Infidele  [DVD
]), Chabrol's reel- and real life muse, plays Helene, headmistress of the local elementary school, who lives above her shop. She is thin as a stylish woman should be, high of cheekbone, dressed in clothes that are evidently the height of contemporary chic, with her hair done by Carita. She loves the school's children and has good times with them. Nevertheless, she has never gotten over a bad previous relationship, and is repressed - and lonely. She finally, haltingly, begins an unlikely affair with the mysterious Popaul (Jean Yanne:Indochine  [DVD] [1993
] ). He has recently returned from the army and Vietnam to the village in which he was born and raised, to take over his father's butcher shop, which he too lives above. He is dour and working class, not particularly handsome, considered beneath her in village society; yet makes himself useful to her, gives her prime cuts of meat, paints her quarters. He becomes, in fact, her primary adult relationship - she really has no one else in her life --nor does he. However, soon local women turn up gruesomely slaughtered, in sadistic Jack the Ripper style. It appears that a serial killer has come to the vicinity, and Helene must begin to suspect the butcher.
The countryside, and the children, have been photographed with great affection and clarity. In addition to its truffles, mushrooms, and plentiful harvests, Perigord is also known for its colorful prehistoric cave paintings, and we see them too. The original, atmospheric score is by Pierre Jansen. Director Chabrol does a good job of building tension that mounts as Helene is forced to reach heart-breaking conclusions. It's a powerful film that is likely to stay with you for some time.