Les biches (1968)

Back to Claude Chabrol, making my way through Arrow’s Claude Chabrol Collection and starting (logically) with the first item in the set. After quite a few years in the commercial wilderness, he struck critical gold again with this film, which has frankly just left me feeling uncertain at best; certainly it wasn’t what I was expecting, given how the box pushes the old “French Hitchcock” line, I thought it’d be more of a thriller… actually it’s best characterised as a relationship drama, albeit of a somewhat twisted sort. Roger Ebert’s 1969 review notes with a sigh that the film was, at least in Chicago, being “promoted along rather hard lines as one of those lesbian sex flicks”, which actually doesn’t surprise me; although it’s nowhere near an ordinary skin flick, and there’s nothing exploitative about it, the lesbian relationship that defines the film must’ve seemed reasonably extraordinary at the time. Basically, Frederique, upper-class dyke from St Tropez comes to Paris, seduces enigmatic young girl who only gives her name as “Why”, takes her home to live the high life down south; local architect, Paul, attends one of Frederique’s parties and his eye is duly caught by Why, whereupon Frederique lets him seduce her too (or is it the other way round?). Trouble is bound to creep into this set-up, especially as we gradually come to understand Why’s cool surface is concealing some fairly dark depths. Jacqueline Sassard, who plays Why, is awfully pleasing to look at whenever she’s on screen, but trying to stay similarly excited by these romantic entanglements was fairly difficult for me, I must admit; Ebert might’ve lamented the poor taste of the film’s promotion in Chicago, but I fear the film’s eminently good taste does it few favours, a bit more luridness might’ve helped. I’ll give it another go one day, at least then I’ll know what to expect and won’t feel disappointed at it not being what I thought it would be, see how I like it then…

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