Written by: John White on April 24th, 2006
Theatrical Release Date: France, 1970
Director: Claude Chabrol
Writer: Claude Chabrol
Cast: Stephane Audran, Jean Yanne
DVD released: May 20th, 2003
Approximate running time: 87 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Rating: Not Rated
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono French
DVD Release: Pathfinder Home Entertainment
Region Coding: Region 0 NTSC
Retail Price: $19.95
Warning – this review contains Spoilers
Synopsis: Helene has been the headmistress at the local school for three years. At the wedding of a colleague she enjoys talking to the town butcher, Paul, and a friendship begins. At the same time, the police find a young woman stabbed to death and the town becomes intrigued with the murder. As Helene starts to fall for Paul she finds a second body, that of the bride from the wedding, with a lighter near the body like one she got Paul. When Paul produces his lighter her fears subside, but when he discovers the one she has found their world turns upside down.
Le Boucher is one of two films that Alfred Hitchcock stated that he wished he had made, a fact that must have given Chabrol a great deal of pleasure given his love of the master. Like many of Chabrol’s films the plot is simply a device to look at the life of the bourgeois and how the characters who inhabit this world act in keeping with their societal mores. Le Boucher is deceptively slight and could be dismissed as a mere character study but this disregards the care Chabrol takes in creating the world of his characters. Chabrol also writes this piece.
Le Boucher takes place in a small provincial town with it’s gossips, local bakers and sense of community. Le Boucher begins with a very happy and joyful wedding and the witty talk of Helene and Paul. As they start a hesitant romance, Paul gives Helene cuts of meat and she makes him a present of a lighter. Helene explains she has not been in a relationship for 10 years and Paul explains how being in the army has scarred him for life. The simple domesticity of their courting is very affecting but throughout Chabrol ensures that Paul says enough to hint at greater unhappiness. This romance is made edgier by a very tense score from Pierre Jansen much in the style of Morricone’s work on Bird with the Crystal Plumage. Chabrol’s unerring knack of making the familiar seem foreboding and the friendly seam deadly is exceptional here. When Helene leads her class through caves telling them stories they are led out to have a picnic and whilst one child reaches for a croissant another sees blood drop on their food – the second victim is revealed bleeding above.
Crucial in the tension of the film is the relationship between Helene and Paul. Stephane Audran is fine and quite still as the unlucky in love schoolteacher but Jean Yanne is exceptional as the gregarious but dark Paul. He manages to convince that he is both homicidal and gentle and his disclosure to Helene that being with her was the only way to stop his urge to kill is both pathetic and moving. Paul’s ending at his own hand comes because of how “embarassed” he is by being found out, he takes his own life rather than kill Helene because of his shame. As he bleeds to death he keeps a running commentary on his blood loss and Helene is moved to kiss him as he dies in the hospital. It is notable that rather than tell the police about finding his lighter by the body she chooses not to and would rather live with her fear and the secret. Despit this, the two would be lovers only embrace when Paul is bleeding to death. The final image of Le Boucher is Helene watching her town from across the water, we are unsure whether she will disclose Paul’s acts and whether she is considering her close shave or a life without love.
Le Boucher is nigh perfect. It works by making the viewer want true love and happiness for the leads and then exposing the sheer impossibility of that. Like Les Bonnes Femmes, Le Boucher is a cautionary tale of the risks of looking for love. With great central performances and a terrific sense of the world of it’s story, Le Boucher is a classic thriller.
Le Boucher was released by Pathfinder with an anamorphic print. There is clearly information missing from the sides of the screen as the title sequence proves. The print is a little soft at times especially away from the center of the screen and there is grain and damage to the print throughout. This is a standards conversion and the print blurs at times also. Overall the video is ok but I would imagine the R2 disc is a better transfer. The audio is good but the subtitles do seem to have some errors in translation (according to my very limited French).
There is a trailer, commentary from 2 screenwriters and good biographies on Chabrol and the two leads.
I think that the R2 release is probably superior to this R1 disc because of better subtitles and the lack of conversion issues. This is a great film and essential for any lover of French cinema or tight thrillers. You need to own a copy of this movie.