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Suspicion: The Films of Claude Chabrol and Alfred Hitchcock

January 13, 2011 - February 25, 2011

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A founding member of the French New Wave, Claude Chabrol began, like his contemporaries Truffaut, Godard, and Rohmer, as a critic for Cahiers du Cinema; unlike his more rigorously intellectual colleagues, however, he embraced genre filmmaking, specifically suspense films (“I love murder,” he said). Chabrol’s career as a critic peaked with the 1957 publication (with Rohmer) of a pioneering study of Alfred Hitchcock; he turned to filmmaking a year later, beginning a cinematic career that could arguably be described as a continuing study—and continuation—of Hitchcock.

Like Hitchcock, Chabrol is the consummate craftsman; his films flow with the ease and assurance of someone who understands the power of cinema to manipulate emotion, while simultaneously embracing—and winking at—such power. “I am a farceur,” he once admitted. “You have to avoid taking yourself too seriously.” Unlike Hitchcock, though, Chabrol hits harder, with a steely condemnation of bourgeois values and a weighty moral resonance in his tales of infidelity, suspense, and murder. In a use of genre similar to his other great influence, Fritz Lang, “the stories he chooses become the frameworks for clear-eyed subtle explorations of guilt, innocence, and accountability,” wrote Stephen Holden in the New York Times.

Chabrol passed away in September, aged eighty, having made over sixty films. We present a generous sampling of his work, in conjunction with some of Hitchcock’s finest; two “masters of suspense,” together at last.


Jason Sanders
Film Notes Writer

Thursday, January 13, 2011
7:00 p.m. Suspicion
Alfred Hitchcock (U.S., 1941). Joan Fontaine is a shy, sensitive lass who marries a dashing gambler (Cary Grant), but begins to fear that he’s a murderer, in Hitchcock’s devilish thriller. “A supreme example of Grant's ability to be simultaneously charming and sinister, and of Hitchcock’s skill with neat expressionistic touches” (Time Out). (99 mins)

Friday, January 14, 2011
7:00 p.m. Le Beau Serge
Claude Chabrol (France, 1958). A young Parisian returns to his small rural town, and tries to cheer up his gloomy old friend and mentor, in Chabrol’s debut film, one of the first of the Nouvelle Vague. “As masterful as if Chabrol has been directing for years . . . an unusual and courageous film” (François Truffaut). (97 mins)

Friday, January 14, 2011
9:00 p.m. Les Bonnes femmes
Claude Chabrol (France, 1960). Paris in the early 1960s, as four “ordinary” shopgirls balance pleasure, danger, and boredom. “Ruthlessly unsentimental yet powerfully compassionate, it shows Chabrol at his most formally inventive, and exerted a pronounced influence on Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz”(Jonathan Rosenbaum). (93 mins)

Sunday, January 16, 2011
4:45 p.m. À Double tour
Claude Chabrol (France, 1960). Jean-Paul Belmondo (in his first role after Breathless) is a confident drifter swaggering through a repressed bourgeois family in Chabrol’s first color film, a blend of Hollywood noir and European existential ennui paradoxically filmed in sunny Aix-en-Provence. After desires are exposed, murder soon follows. “Bristles with inventiveness” (Dave Kehr). (110 mins)

Friday, January 21, 2011
7:00 p.m. Blackmail
Alfred Hitchcock (U.K., 1929). Judith Rosenberg on Piano. Alfred Hitchcock's ingenious thriller about a woman who kills a man in self-defense, and attempts to cover it up. (78 mins)

Friday, January 21, 2011
8:40 p.m. This Man Must Die
Claude Chabrol (France, 1969). A young widower vengefully hunts for the hit-and-run driver who has killed his son in Chabrol’s tight policier. “Moves with the tempo and inevitability of classical tragedy” (National Film Theatre, London). (113 mins)

Friday, January 28, 2011
7:00 p.m. Strangers on a Train
Alfred Hitchcock (U.S., 1951). A tennis star (Farley Granger) meets a stranger who offers to kill his unfaithful wife for him, as long as he then kill’s the stranger’s hated father, in Hitchcock’s polished adaptation (cowritten by Raymond Chandler) of a Patricia Highsmith novel. “A gripping, palm-sweating piece of suspense” (Variety). (101 mins)

Friday, January 28, 2011
9:00 p.m. Les Cousins
Claude Chabrol (France, 1959). A country lad comes to Paris to live with his sophisticated, debauched urban cousin in Chabrol’s second film, fascinating for its glimpse of Parisian student life in the Latin Quarter of the late fifties, and its “remarkable collection of faces…and some of the best orgies on film” (Pauline Kael). (112 mins)

Saturday, January 29, 2011
8:20 p.m. Le Boucher
Claude Chabrol (France, 1970). Two misfits—a Parisian schoolteacher and a shy butcher—find each other by stages in the rural Dordogne region as a serial killer stalks their town, in Chabrol’s noirish update of Beauty and the Beast. “Both a love story and a horror movie . . . recorded with the fervor of a Balzac” (Village Voice). (93 mins)

Friday, February 4, 2011
7:00 p.m. La Femme infidèle
Claude Chabrol (France, 1969). In this brilliant portrait of marriage interruptus, a successful insurance broker, Charles (Michel Bouquet), suspects that his wife Hélène (Stéphane Audran) has a lover, and she does. “A model of psychological nuance, La Femme infidèle is both perverse and touching”(TIFF Cinematheque). “Exquisitely detailed, impeccably acted, stunningly directed” (Pauline Kael). (102 mins)

Friday, February 4, 2011
9:00 p.m. Violette Nozière
Claude Chabrol (France, 1978). A rare screening of Chabrol's classic, chilling portrait of a parricidal teenager in 1930s France. "The riveting Huppert provides a brilliant portrait of inscrutable fatalism behind an impenetrable mask" (Village Voice). (122 mins)

Saturday, February 5, 2011
8:35 p.m. Vertigo
Alfred Hitchcock (U.S., 1958). Detective Jimmy Stewart combs the Bay Area looking for the secret behind Kim Novak’s beauty in Hitchcock’s sinister ode to voyeurism, death, and amorous fixation. “Perhaps the finest film starring San Francisco” (San Francisco Chronicle). (128 mins)

Friday, February 11, 2011
7:00 p.m. Rope
Alfred Hitchcock (U.S., 1948). Hitchcock’s tale of two young men who attempt the perfect murder was infamously shot to resemble one long, continuous take. “Not merely a stunt that is justified by the extraordinary career that contains it, but one of the movies that makes that career extraordinary” (New York Times). (80 mins)

Friday, February 11, 2011
8:40 p.m. Inspector Lavardin
Claude Chabrol (France, 1986). Inspector Lavardin finds that the wife of the murdered man in his latest case is a woman he loved twenty years earlier, in Chabrol’s Vertigo-like thriller. “The kind of whodunit or policier which can be opened up to a delighted anarchy” (Monthly Film Bulletin). (97 mins)

Saturday, February 12, 2011
7:00 p.m. Madame Bovary
Claude Chabrol (France, 1991). Huppert captures the title character, destroyed by an oppressive provincial society and her own romantic delusions, in Claude Chabrol's intelligent, rigorously faithful adaptation of the great Flaubert novel, done “to make the film Flaubert would have made had he a camera instead of a pen.” (140 mins)

Sunday, February 13, 2011
5:00 p.m. Story of Women
Claude Chabrol (France, 1989). Claude Chabrol's austere and compelling portrait of Marie Latour, a housewife-turned-abortionist in occupied France, played by Huppert as "a cold but oddly sympathetic everywoman"(Chicago Reader). (104 mins)

Friday, February 18, 2011
7:00 p.m. Betty
Claude Chabrol (France, 1992). Pretty young Betty (Marie Trintignant) washes up at a seedy bar, drunk, bleary, and lost, and begins to recount a tale of marriage and motherhood gone bad to an older, sympathetic woman (Stéphane Audran), in Chabrol’s “ferociously accurate portrayal of two women who no longer fit the bourgeois mold” (Variety). From a novel by Georges Simenon. (103 mins)

Friday, February 18, 2011
9:00 p.m. La Cérémonie
Claude Chabrol (France, 1995). Based on Ruth Rendell's A Judgment in Stone, Claude Chabrol's acclaimed thriller pits a stolid new maid (Sandrine Bonnaire) and an insolent postmistress (Isabelle Huppert) against a too-comfortable bourgeois family in a scenario that plays as "theater-of-cruelty Marx" (Village Voice). (111 mins)

Saturday, February 19, 2011
8:50 p.m. The Swindle
Claude Chabrol (France, 1998). Two con artists—the older, elegant Michel Serrault and the younger, beautiful Isabelle Huppert—may be in over their heads when they attempt a “long con.” Chabrol’s fiftieth film, a combination of a Mamet-like tale of confidence hucksters and To Catch A Thief-like international glamour. “Made with the practiced ease of a master” (Roger Ebert). (105 mins)

Friday, February 25, 2011
9:05 p.m. Merci pour le chocolat
Claude Chabrol (France/Switzerland, 2000). Swiss chocolate flows in the veins of the haute bourgeois family at the center of Chabrol's "witty psychological thriller, more gothic than noir . . . Self-contained, enigmatic, illuminated from within, Huppert banks a performance that pays dividends throughout the film" (Village Voice). (99 mins)

SERIES CURATED BY SUSAN OXTOBY. PFA WISHES TO THANK THE FOLLOWING INDIVIDUALS AND INSTITUTIONS FOR THEIR ASSISTANCE WITH THIS RETROSPECTIVE: CULTURESFRANCE, FRENCH MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS, PARIS; DELPHINE SELLES, FRENCH CULTURAL SERVICE, NEW YORK CITY; DENIS BISSON, FRENCH CULTURAL SERVICE, SAN FRANCISCO; SUE JONES, BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE; SCOTT FOUNDAS AND ISA CUCINOTTA, FILM SOCIETY OF LINCOLN CENTER; IAN BIRNIE, LOS ANGELES COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART; BRIAN BELOVARAC, JANUS FILMS; AND D.A. MILLER, ENGLISH DEPARTMENT, UC BERKELEY.