(director/writer: Claude Chabrol; screenwriter: Paul Gégauff; cinematographer: Jean Rabier; editor: Jacques Gaillard; cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant (Paul Thomas), Jacqueline Sassard (Why), Stéphane Audran (Frédérique), Henri Attal (Robèque), Dominique Zardi (Riais); Runtime: 104; Boetie/Alexandra; 1968-France)
“This is top-notch filmmaking by a director who when he is on the mark is as good as anyone in the business.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is top-notch filmmaking by a director who when he is on the mark is as good as anyone in the business. Stéphane Audran is Frédérique, a wealthy woman with lesbian leanings, who on a whim picks up a young, attractive, impoverished Parisian sidewalk artist with the unusual name of Why (Sassard). They go to her vacation home in St. Tropez and she gets introduced to her wealthy lifestyle. What complicates their relationship is the arrival of Paul (Trintignant), a handsome and talented architect, who immediately makes love with Why; but, soon finds he has more in common with Frédérique, so the two of them become lovers. Paul shows a keen interest in having a bisexual ménage à trois, but Frédérique is determined to keep him for herself.

The film is divided into a number of segments that ask questions about the lead characters, questions they cannot readily ask about themselves.

Chabrol has the audacity to weave a story around these three diverse characters, each searching for something inside them that remains a mystery. It is a way to look at the 1960s through the lenses of these materialists, who are not caught up in the cultural revolution of that period but are products of the sexual revolution. The two women are searching for some kind of comfort that can take away their loneliness. By all indications, they could care less about art or the world. Why knows she is not a good artist, and Frédérique could care less. Paul’s search remains more of a mystery as his only other interest besides these two women, is the love he has for his work.

Frédérique and Paul feel a happiness in their love that fills a void in their life that they couldn’t find before. Why is the odd one out but can’t accept her fate as she begins to transform, changing her look and style, modeling herself after Frédérique. Once she has tasted this lifestyle, she can’t go back to being a sidewalk artist again.

Paul, being the most intuitive of the three, senses a danger in the house which also has two gay (Robèque and Riais) freeloading sycophants living there. They are nasty chaps who have outlived their usefulness to Frédérique, and are asked by her to leave.

What makes this one of Chabrol’s better films, is the unexpected resources of the characters to pull off this emotionally draining and bizarrely amusing story. The females are the very fragile ‘does’ of the film and the male is the hunter, as they all wrestle with the ambiguities of their sexual intentions. It leads to obsession, madness, and despair. Their emotionally desperate situation always seems to be one step beyond their reach, as they get deeper and deeper into an unresolvable situation until it ends splendidly as Grand Guignol.