Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Claude Chabrol: Le Boucher

Claude Chabrol's Le Boucher / The Butcher (1970/1971) exposes the strange underbelly of a seemingly idyllic town in Dordogne in the Southwest of France. Similar to, say, David Lynch's Blue Velvet (1986) and Sofia Coppola's 1999 adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides' 1993 novel The Virgin Suicides. However, the main focus is on two characters who meet at a wedding: Hélène (Stéphane Audran), Headmistress at the town school, and Popaul (Jean Yanne), a traumatized fifteen year veteran of the First Indochina War (Vietnam) and the Guerre d'Algérie (Algerian War) who has resumed in civilian life his occupation as a butcher. The interaction between these two is intense, but masked in part by the routine business of town life contrasted with the introduction of murder. Chabrol subverts convention by making the investigating police inspector a minor distraction rather than either plot-driver or mystery solver. 


In addition, Chabrol gives words and images their due. The scenery is gorgeous. Cro-Magnon paintings at Les Grottes de Cougnac (the Cougnac Grottoes) are shown in one key segment. Finally, more harrowing than any overt action in the film are certain descriptive passages, such as Popaul's recollections of war:

I've seen a corpse or two, their heads in the wind, cut in half, mouths open. I've seen three or four piled together. Kids with their eyes punctured. Indo-Chinese as old as Madame Touraint completely torn to bits. I've seen pals of mine rotting in the sun, being eaten by maggots.

From one vantage point, certainly, Le Boucher may be seen as a serious contemplation of the hidden costs of war even in remote places. In this case, a combat veteran is clearly damaged and demonstrably capable of murder on the world stage, but is he, in fact, the local murderer, too?

Today's Rune: Wholeness.       


Charles Gramlich said...

Strangely enough, at the moment I was reading this post I was also trying to set up my author page on amazon, france.

jodi said...

Erik, the French side of my family is named Boucher. I just learned that it means 'butcher'. Very cool, indeed!

t said...

This reminds me of "Bombay Republic", the award-winning short story by Rotimi Babatunde. Enough about war war war.

But really, why do we do it? Why fight so bad? We mad?