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CRY OF THE OWL, THE(Le Cri du Hibou) (director/writer: Claude Chabrol; screenwriters: Odile Barski/based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith; cinematographer: Jean Rabier; editor: Monique Fardoulis; music: Matthieu Chabrol; cast: Christophe Malavoy (Robert), Mathilda May (Juliette), Jacques Penot (Patrick), Virginie Thevenet (Veronique), Jean-Claude Lecas (Jacques),Patrice Kerbrat(Marcello),Agnès Denèfle(Suzie),Jean-Pierre Kalfon (Police Lieutenant),Victor Garrivier (The Doctor); Runtime: 102; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Anthony Pass; Image Entertainment; 1987-France/Italy-in French with English subtitles)
“Executed in a detached languishing stylistic clinical way.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Noted veteran French director Claude Chabrol (“Rupture”/”Boucher”/”Femme Infidele“)helms this cold thriller, executed in a detached languishing stylistic clinical way. It’s based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith, that highlights the malaise engulfing the middle-class (with the American setting changed to the French countryside). The suspense comes with some questions about love, jealousy, a few gruesome killings, and the uncovering of several characters who are mentally unbalanced. Successful but depressed middle-aged artist Robert (Christophe Malavoy), treated by shrinks for several nervous breakdowns and once a resident of a mental institution, splits from Paris and from his bitchy venomous artist wife Veronique (Virginie Thevenet) and takes a temporary draftsman job for a company in Vichy (drawing owls) to wait for the divorce to come through. In his spare time, Robert becomes a peeping tom, spying on his attractive neighbor Juliette (Mathilda May) for the past three months in her isolated house–claiming he just likes to watch her cook and it makes him feel good that he imagines she’s happy and stable with her mundane life. The twentysomething Juliette is engaged to Patrick (Jacques Penot), a handsome but dullish traveling salesman for a drug firm.

When Juliette catches Robert in the act, he admits his guilt and the two become friends after she senses he’s harmless and invites him into her place for tea and a face-to-face chat. Juliette mentions that she’spreoccupied with morbidity and believes Robert is the harbinger of death, which turns her on. Almost immediately after meeting the strange Robert, the even stranger Juliette realizes that she doesn’t love Patrick and breaks off their relationship–becoming obsessed with conquering the reluctant but polite Robert. Unfortunately Patrick turns out to be the jealous obsessive type and attacks Robert, saying he’s not willing to let go of the girl he loves. When Patrick turns up missing after that brawl, the innocent Robert becomes the prime suspect and all hell breaks loose soon afterwards in this twisty irrational tale.

French New Wave filmmakerChabrol, one of the founders of that movement, uses Robert’s tortured soul persona to evoke sympathy for the perverse artist types who can’t fit in with conventional society. Though the film is engrossing for a good portion, it fails to hold-up throughout. The noirish characterization of Robert becomes increasingly more difficult to relate to the more we see how impotent he is in dealing with his transparent malicious psychopathic ex-wife, who uses his predicament for her own venal pleasure. Also all the main characters seem like pawns in the filmmaker’s hands, used as lifeless literary figures–talking as if they were bookish characters in a literary work rather than like real people do when trying to solve their commonplace problems.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”