Thursday, August 1, 2013

Short Take: Les Bonnes femmes

This review was originally published on Pol Culture.

Les Bonnes femmes, French director Claude Chabrol’s fourth feature, is a gem. It embodies the spirit of French New Wave filmmaking as much as the best early efforts of François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. There’s not much in the way of plot. The film is an episodic, slice-of-life portrayal of four young women who work at a small Paris appliance store. They are a compelling bunch. Ginette (Stéphane Audran) is an aspiring singer who is terrified of being judged for her ambitions. Rita (Lucile Saint-Simon) is engaged, and her upper-class fiancé is anxious about how well she’ll fit in with his family. Jane (Bernadette Lafont) is a bored party girl who often gets in over her head with men. Jacqueline (Clotilde Joano) is a shy romantic whose poor judgment with the opposite sex ends in tragedy. Chabrol’s approach in this picture is very different from the tightly controlled, even bloodless style he became known for. The picture embraces spontaneity. It is energetic and freewheeling, and one is completely caught up by the personalities of the four women. The jazzy ambience carries one through the most mundane scenes, such as a lunchtime visit to the zoo, as well as the unfortunately pulpy climax. All four actresses give strong performances, but if there’s a standout, it’s probably Stéphane Audran. The scenes of her facing her fears about singing onstage are probably the most urgent in the film. The screenplay is credited to Chabrol and Paul Gégauff. Henri Decaë provided the handsome documentary-style cinematography.

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