Claude Chabrol was the first of the Cahiers du cinéma writers to take up directing, with the Hitchcockian “Le Beau Serge” (1958). He financed not only that but Eric Rohmer’s “Le Signe du Lion” (1959) and Philippe de Broca’s “Les Jeux de l’Amour” (1960) and Le Farceur (1961), and (in part) Jacques Rivette’s “Paris Nous Appartient” (1960), and lent his name to launching Jean-Luc Godard’s “A Bout de Souffle” (Breathless, 1959) for which he received an advisor credit.
Chabrol died at the age of 80 while I was on the west side of the Pacific. After returning home, I looked for a Chabrol movie that (1) I hadn’t seen, (2) is available here on DVD, and (3) had not previously been reviewed on AC. From down on my Netflix queue, I promoted the 1968 “Les Biches,” despite its overall average (3-star) rating.
I guess I have to begin by noting that “biche” in French does not have the English cognate that sounds the same: in French “biche” is a female deer, a doe. The young Parisian female street artist (sidewalk chalk paintings), played by Jacqueline Sassard in the movie draws does and has a drawing of a deer inside a deer (presumably a pregnant doe) over her bed. “Bad Girls” is presumably a more commercial title in English than “The Does,” though reinforcing the mistaken of “biche” for “bitch.”
Chabrol’s muse, even after they were divorced in 1980, Stéphane Audran plays Frédérique, a rich thirty-something woman who initially seems to be a lipstick lesbian. Frédérique drops a 500-franc note among the coins given the street artist. (The exchange ratio was about 5 francs to the US dollar, 1968 dollars…)
Frédérique invites the young woman home with her. Asked her name, the woman responds “Why?” and then claims that “Why” is her name. After her bath, Why accompanies Frédérique to the latter’s villa overlooking the Mediterranean at St. Tropez. Housed there for reasons that escape me are a pair of seemingly gay hangers-on Robéque (Henri Attal) and Riais (Dominique Zardi). They are in the film as comic relief, but they seem to have ceased to amuse Frédérique.
When Why goes off with a local architect Paul (top-billed Jean-Louis Trintignant), they (very obviously) tail her. The next afternoon, when Paul has arranged a rendez-vous with Why, Frédérique throws herself at him. Paul chooses wealth over youth and he and Frédérique become a couple, though Why stays on.
Trintignant is (as usual, “Rouge” being the grand exception, “The Conformist” perfect casting) bland. Audran is stylish and perverse, and Why wants to be her, especially after Frédérique (very easily) takes Paul away from her the day after he took her virginity.
Being a Chabrol movie (and Chabrol being often referred to as “the French Hitchcock”), I knew that something bad was going to happen and was pretty sure of the implement that would be used by someone sooner or later.
It was, in a perfunctory finale marked “epilogue” though it is the prime melodrama of the 93-minute movie.
Though I can see why Paul would be interested in both women, I did not feel chemistry in any of the relationships in the movie, nor did I see much point of the movie. Yes, the moneyed are often shallow and amoral and use their resources to pick up whom they want (and discard them at will), but was that ever news?
The pace of the movie is very slow. The scenic vistas of Paris and St. Tropez are more interesting than most of the dialogue. The points of the love triangle are sleek and photogenic, but lack backstories and interest as characters. The psychological mysteriousness is aided by musical score composed by Pierre Jansen, who scored many Chabrol films including “The Beast Must Die” the next year and “Le boucher” the year after that. I (vaguely) remember them both as being more interesting, less abstract movies than “Les biches” is. I definitely could not recommend “Les biches” as a starting point for appreciating Chabrol. “Les cousins” (1959) would be chronologically a good choice, “The Beast Must Die” (1969) is generally considered the best.
The rather soft-focus DVD has no bonus features other than a theatrical trailer in French without subtitles available in English.