The Beast Must Die (1969)

Third time lucky with the Chabrol collection? More so this time, at least, than with the first two. Que la bete meure is the sort of story that turns on a couple of not inconsiderable coincidences, at least one of which borders on being a bit too hard to swallow, but this time it was worth sticking with. We begin with a fairly appalling act, a hit and run which kills a young child and whose perpetrator flees the scene. With the police proving fairly useless in turning up the man to blame, the boy’s father, Charles, undertakes his own investigation and, thanks to one of the aforementioned coincidences, first latches onto the driver’s passenger at the time of the incident, and through her latches onto the driver himself (who, in that other coincidence, turns out to be exactly the sort of person he was expecting). This latter is a fellow called Paul, the beast of the title, a man of staggering unpleasantness, and as the film progresses from there we’re obviously meant to feel Charles would not only be doing himself and Paul’s sorely beset family a favour, but humanity. But Ed Howard’s review of this film attracted a comment which I thought offered a fascinating counter-reading; namely that French audiences in 1969 might not have found Paul sympathetic per se but at least they would’ve found him more so than Charles (especially when portrayed by Jean Yanne). And I’m inclined to think there’s something to that; even Charles notes in his diary that Paul behaves like such a cunt he’s more like a caricature of an evil man than the real thing. As for Charles himself, however justified his quest for vengeance may be, it’s unquestionable that his own behaviour in executing that quest  hardly amounts to a shining moral example; he’s just a bit less unpleasant in his own way. Not perfect, but much more interesting, in my opinion, than the last two films we considered.

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