director: Claude Chabrol; screenwriter: Paul Gégauff; cinematographer: Jean Rabier; editor: Jacques Gaillard; cast: Danielle Gegauff (Esther), Clemence Gégauff (Elsie), Paul Gégauff (Philippe), Paula Moore (Sylvia Murdoch), Michel Valette (Katkof), Cécile Vassort (Annie); Runtime: 105; La Boetie/Sunchild/Gerico; 1974-France)

“This film has both the look of a daytime TV soaper and a cheapie movie.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A very bitter love story unfolds reflecting on the break-up of a seemingly happy marriage by circumstances that seemed odd and inexplicable, unless it is true that certain people can’t handle their happiness and have to do something to screw that up. The stars of the film, who play a married couple, are probably playing out on the screen a lot of what their married life was like before their real-life divorce. The stars are Paul Gégauff (Philippe), his ex-wife Danielle Gegauff (Esther), and their daughter Clemence Gégauff (Elsie).

An odd thing occurred after the movie was made, Paul Gégauff, Chabrol’s favorite screenwriter, was stabbed to death in 1983 by his second wife.

This film has both the look of a daytime TV soaper and a cheapie movie. It never develops into anything more than what it starts out to be. It is a twisted psychological tale depicting a couple, Philippe and Esther, living on the outskirts of Paris, with him being the very erudite and upper-class teacher of life to his attractive but unsophisticated peasant-born wife. One day Philippe tells his wife that he had six affairs that didn’t mean anything during their ten years of marriage. Esther is then forced to tell him that she never had an affair, as he insists that she have an affair with an Arab guitar player named Habib. What is doubly strange about that request is, Habib is someone Philippe doesn’t even like. I can’t begin to explain why he does that, unless he is so arrogant and bored with life that he feels he has to. That he loses his wife after she has a number of sexual encounters with her new lover, should not be particularly surprising.

How Chabrol handles this volatile material is what brings even more vagueness than he usually brings to his stories, as he concentrates on Philippe’s changing psychological states that vary from being a doting father to his cute daughter to being a vile bully to his wife. As things change for the worse in their marriage, the couple gives up their rented house in the country and they move back to the city. Paris offers them a chance to change and grow intellectually and emotionally. She takes a job as a publicist with Habib’s musical company. It is not really clear how Philippe earns his money, but he is involved in some kind of business. The tables are now turned on him as he angrily and jealously pursues his wife, who continues to see Habib. He disparages her taste disapproving that she hangs around with Habib’ superficial philosopher friends, who don’t even read what they are bullshitting about. Their break-up is now for real. So what does the love-sick Philippe do but meet a Scottish lady, Paula Moore (Sylvia Murdoch), who has been divorced three times, and one of her former husbands is Habib. Philippe quickly marries her but soon is pained by the sweet memories of Esther, and once again seeks Esther out.

I did not think the film told a crisp enough story to make it anything but one of Chabrol’s experimental so-so films. The demise of Philippe and his failure to let his wife be who she is without letting go of his tyrannical hold on her, made him an unsympathetic character from the beginning to the end of the story. For the film to say that men always ask questions and women don’t, is not exactly a modern attitude to have these days. It was unclear to me what Chabrol’s thinking about all this really was, whether it was an ironical attitude he toyed with or was he trying to say something that was so ridiculous that no one could take it seriously. Chabrol has made a career out of being vague in his films, and more often than not it has worked to his benefit — but not this time.