Le Boucher/The Butcher is one that falls into the love it or hate it camp. Certainly by modern standards, Claude Chabrol makes little of his premise - smalltown schoolteacher Stephane Audran falls for smalltown butcher and serial killer Jean Yanne - either as a suspense vehicle or moral drama. There are occasional hints of something deeper in the butcher's descriptions of the atrocities he saw in Algeria and IndoChina and which he has brought home with him to the outwardly idyllic backwater and scene of his unhappy childhood, but they're just left for the audience to make the connections. As usual, Chabrol is more interested in milieu than the crimes themselves, and his sense of place and community is impeccable without being forced, as his direction. Although the script is fairly thin, it perfectly captures the way comparative isolation and lack of diversion brings people into each other's spheres more than burning passion (in fact, Yanne reveals that it's her ability to calm his passions that makes her so special to him). And it's telling that the two characters never have a romance: they don't even share a kiss. It's more akin to a drawn-out old-fashioned courtship - it's just that one of them happens to be a serial killer.
One thing that is particularly striking is that way he is able to use long, unshowy takes (some lasting several minutes) simply because his actors are up to the challenge, giving the film an unforced, natural flow. There's imagination and striking imagery when required - the film's most tense moment takes place during a fade to black, while a night time drive takes on a disembodied quality - but he's not out to batter his audience with technique. Quietly impressive, but you may need to have lived in a small town to get the most out of it.
Arrow's UK PAL DVD does offer a better transfer than the US Pathfinder DVD in a slightly cropped widescreen ratio, but contains no extras.
I first saw "Le Boucher" at college when I found it in the video library there. I've been waiting ages for it to come out on DVD. This release has no extras, but the film is worth it.
Reminiscent of Hitchcock, the film tells the story of a teacher in a rural French village who begins to fall for the local butcher. But when several girls are murdered, events lead her to suspect him.
"Le Boucher" maintains a leisurely pace throughout that matches the pace of village life. Rather than relying on shocks, it builds tension and suspense - esp effective are the scenes of the schooltrip and the finale in the schoolhouse.
The scenery is beautiful, direction and performances subtle. Highly recommended
"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]  ). 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.
I have to admit that despite that fact I want to study French at university and that I claim that the thing I love most about French culture is the cinema, I had absolutely no interest whatsoever in watching Le Boucher. The only reason I watched it was because I was roped into doing a Modern Languages Symposium with another school and the topic of 'Claude Chabrol' (French, Nouvelle Vague Director) had already been chosen for my partner and I. That said, it wasn't a bad film at all. Granted, it wasn't exactly to my taste, but I could certainly see its merits.
Le Boucher, a film with a significantly ominous title, is about a school teacher, Helene, who moves back to a small Perigord village to begin a new job. She meets the town butcher, Popaul, at a wedding as they happen to have been placed next to each other during the festivities. Popaul takes a liking to Helene; however, she harbours only platonic feelings for Popaul due to the memories of a particularly bad past relationship. Several women are murdered and Helene thinks she knows who's behind it all - but is she correct?
I didn't read the plot synopsis prior to watching this film so I had absolutely no idea what to expect. When the murders started happening I was really shocked because they were so sudden and unexpected. The beginning of the movie has you fooled into thinking that this is going to be your standard love story, but it is, in fact, nothing of the sort. Claude Chabrol is seen to be Alfred Hitchcock's French counterpart and this thriller focuses on sexual frustration.
The acting in this film was excellent. The film centres around Popaul and Helene and the other actors don't really get very much on screen action. The relationship between the two is thoroughly bizarre and I think the actors do a good job of portraying that. Interestingly, Helene is played by Stephane Audran, the wife of Claude Chabrol and she is really good at playing a slightly reserved character as she did in Chabrol's short film, La Muette. Jean Yann, who plays Popaul, has a rather sinister look that goes nicely with his character and I was genuinely a bit creeped out by him. (No offence to him). The climatic end is the best part of this film and that is when the actors are really in their element. There is a sudden change in character from one of them which is carried out extremely well and the end of the movie had me gripping the duvet covers in anticipation.
It has been a long time since I watched this film but no distinctly 'New Wave' techniques stood out for me. Chabrol is seen to be one of the pioneers of this French cinema movement; however, nothing about this film shouted 'New Wave' at me. I probably missed something. This film does; however, raise several interesting questions about repression and the representation of people's characters. If you were to look at the basic plot line you would think that you had a good idea of who was in the right and who was in the wrong, but Chabrol blurs the lines between victim and murderer, often making it hard to distinguish between the two, which is intriguing.
All in all this is a great film, though probably one for those with an acquired taste for French thrillers, which probably wipes out a large percentage of viewers. The beginning of the film was slightly dull but then it built up to a brilliantly climatic ending that I wasn't expecting at all. My main criticism of this film is that ketchup-blood was used. Though, New Wave films were all made on a budget so I guess I shouldn't complain too much about that. If your French isn't that great then you'll definitely want to watch this film with subtitles because the language isn't that simple, though you could probably get a good guess at what's going on from the screenplay.
Helene Daville (Stephane Audran) is the school mistress in Tremolat, a quiet village in the Perigord region of France. She's a confident, attractive woman who had a love affair ten years ago and who now has no desire to become enmeshed again. Popaul Thomas (Jean Yanne) is the village butcher. He spent 15 years in the army serving in Indochina and Algeria. He's seen things he doesn't care to talk about. At a wedding they meet and become friends. He is strongly attracted to her, and brings her presents of choice cuts of meat. She likes him, even cares for him in a way, but resists anything more intimate. Then young women are found butchered in the region.
This really isn't a mystery movie and it isn't a tedious psychological drama. The way in which these two people are drawn to each other is at once curious and intriguing. Is Helene a woman who will put herself in danger because she is able to feel so few other things? Is Popaul simply a man who wants more than he has or is he a serial murderer? If he is a murderer, on what levels is he guilty? How deep are the feelings and complexities within Helene as, at one point, she keeps hidden a piece of evidence that could point to the murderer?
I found the movie consistently involving but not one that had me either guessing or emotionally engaged. Audran and Yanne both give outstanding performances. Audran's character seems cool and in control, but she unexpectedly shows deeper feelings, especially when she is dealing with the students in her charge. Yanne looks a little like 80 per cent Mel Gibson and 20 per cent Andy Kaufman. Popaul comes across as an entirely competent man, able to handle whatever might come his way. But at the same time there is a wounded vulnerability about him that can create uneasy feelings. And for old car fans, Helene Daville drives a Citroen 2CV, a model no longer made. It was the French equivalent of the old VW, cheap to buy, reliable, and easy to fix if anything went wrong. It's so ugly a car it has great style.
I thought the movie was involving and well worth watching. The DVD transfer, while not bad, could have used some work.
on 3 August 2010
Even though i have always been a fan of French cinema, i had never really found myself enamoured by Chabrol's work. It always seemed slow - leisurely to the point of laziness - while the acting appeared minimal, striving for dull realism; but lately i have begun to appreciate the strengths that these qualities provide for his films as a whole, especially here with LE BOUCHER, a quiet, restrained mood piece which poses a moral dilemma for the audience. The film, set in a small French village community, centres on a blossoming romance between the headmistress of the local school and a former army veteran, now running the local butcher's shop. In fact, right until the end the relationship is founded on what appears to be mutual respect and a sense of shared loneliness, in that two lonely people find that they like each other but are unsure or frightened to proceed to the next level; and it is the characters' reticience and appropriateness which elevates what would otherwise be a mundane murder mystery into a deeper, darker study of repressed desires, scarred pasts, and missed opportunities. The moral ambiguity of the film is the consideration that we may feel regret or pity for the murderer, as there is a hint that the actions were the result of some uncontrollable inner drive, but in Chabrol's careful director's hands the stark almost matter-of-fact ending allows his audience to make up their own minds. The final image goes a long way to help you make your choice.
on 2 October 2008
If you are looking for an action-packed, thrill-a-minute sort of film then you should probably look elsewhere. If that first sentence hasn't put you off buying Le Boucher then you'll know it's right for you. The film contains some superb acting, but the real star of the show for me was the French countryside. The 1960s in rural France are wonderfully evoked and gave me a sense of longing to step into that now disappeared world.
For me the psychological thrill element worked perfectly. It's not clear whether or not the seemingly nice butcher (who, incidentally, looks quite like Harry H Corbett from Steptoe and Son) from the village is a sadistic killer or simply what he purports to be. Is the schoolmistress safe with him in her house? The film builds to a tension-filled ending in which everything is revealed.
on 3 January 2007
This is an excellent example of late New Wave filmmaking, marking the point at which Chabrol started to get a bit artier, and there's nothing wrong with that provided the characters and settings are interesting, which they are here.
What I object to is the unnecessary cropping of the film's anamorphic aspect ratio to 16:9, obvious from the titles, when the principal performers' names are incomplete at the periphery of the frame. This is not what one should expect from a so-called Claude Chabrol Collection. It made the elegant gliding around locations of Chabrol's camera a less noticeable advance on the 16mm handheld days of earlier films such as Les Bonnes Femmes.
I saw the film first on 16mm with a group of students interested in film; it was part of a series looking at French film. Having it on a bonus-free, additionless DVD, allowed me to re-look at it many years later.
Claude Chabrol's skill as a director still impresses, the colours and settings are as ravishing as I remember them and it was great to watch without the 16mm projector (of which I was in charge) humming away in the background spoiling the soundtrack.
Chabrol creates the atmospheres, conveys the scenes effectively and edits with great skill in this slow-moving, slowly built-up film but, in all its predictable ending, it seems to lack something. The climax viewers wait for never really materialises but, perhaps, that was his intention. It is a beautiful film which explores the characters to some extent but leaves audiences wanting more, especially from a director of Chabrol's quality.
Having written this, it is still worth the four or five pounds and is an excellent introduction to Chabrol for anyone who has not seen any others.
on 30 March 2011
I have decided Chabrol is always interesting but I have not seen something which knocks me out. Le Boucher is the one I would watch again. There are some delightful moments mainly, as a chap, revolving around Mlle. Audran who is perfectly imperfect. There are, in here, one or two truly charged 'thriller' moments which are absent from some of the other films. He seems to be a critic of the bourgeoisie (probably a very basic comment) and some of us in England can't quite connect with that. We know from the Telegraph that they are just as bad as the proles like me. So what? They've just got more money. I can't see much to get exhilerated about in Chabrol, though with a name like that you'd expect something. I reckon that his repute depends on Stephane when the 60s became the 70s. Que La Bete Meurtre is of a similar standard and interest though. Le Boucher is nearly 5/5. But not quite.