The Butcher (1970)

Parenthetically, what was it with Chabrol and the reuse of character names during this period? Not even I am so dense that I haven’t noticed this. In this film, the titular butcher shares a real name with the architect in Les biches and a nickname with the title character of the 1972 film Dr Popaul, to say nothing of the various Charles and Helenes scattered through the end of the 60s/start of the 70s. Something is happening but I don’t know what it is. Maybe it was Chabrol playing silly buggers with people who insist on finding these things significant? Whatever. At any rate I think I’ve finally come to the realisation that the whole “French Hitchcock” business is a distraction of sorts, and to just take what Chabrol offers as it is… consequently I found myself quite liking this tale of murder in the French countryside, except that’s really only part of what it is; our focus here is Popaul the butcher and Miss Helene, the school headmistress, a pair of frankly damaged souls, she’s let a bad romance get the better of her and he’s let fifteen years of army service get the better of him. When dead bodies start turning up, we’re not exactly surprised to learn the killer’s identity (just consider the film’s title), but in some respects that’s not really the point anyway… I think what Chabrol was going for here was a kind of desperate sadness that’s a bit deeper than the usual thriller, and I think he gets that from these two characters (and particularly these two actors, Yanne and Audran), who clearly love each other but she can’t permit herself to do so and so he can’t express himself except by… well. I hesitate to go as far as this reviewer in saying Helene effectively becomes the real butcher, that’s an overstatement, but it’s still an interesting perspective that kind of illustrates the relationship at the heart of the film.

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