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Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Le Beau Serge (1958) p. Claude Chabrol

This is a Ngram comparing the popularity of the films by Truffaut, Godard and Chabrol in the English language between 1950 and 2000.
Movie Review
Le Beau Serge (1958)
p. Claude Chabrol
Criterion Collection #580

   And so the French New Wave arrived in 1958, heralded by this particular film, Le Beau Serge by Cahiers du Cinema critic/founder(?) Claude Chabrol.  Chabrol would have to the third in the trinity of French New Wave film makers alongside Truffaut and Godard.  But, importantly, Chabrol was first, with his first film, Le Beau Savage rising to prominence a year prior to Godard, who released Breathless in 1960.  You can see that illustrated in the Ngram below:

Ngram demonstrating Chabrol obtaining popularity a year before Godard in the English language between 1958 and 1960.

  It's interesting to note that in the period betwen 1958 and 1965, Truffaut actually ran a distant third to Chabrol and Godard, just after that time period Truffaut would surpass Chabrol in popularity and it remained that way forever after.

   Understanding that Breathless was released well after Le Beau Serge helps pull both films and the French New Wave itself into focus.  The French New Wave is the central episode in any broad history of the relationship of the Arts to criticism.  It was a time period where critics became artists and obtained a world-wide Audience.  So prominent is the example of the French New Wave as an Artistic trend that it dominates the naming of non-French national/regional trends: the Eastern European New Wave, but demonstrably through the type of films which were actually made during the 1960's in countries all over the world.

 The primary non-Native artistic influences on the French New Wave, examples, if you will, were the northern European examples of Dreyer and Bergman and the Italian neo-realism of Rossellini and others.  On the other side of the art/commercial divide, there was a definite familiarity and fondness for the conventions of American genre film, gangster and detective movies specifically, but also comedy and musical examples.

  The main critique of the Cahiers du Cinema crowd was directed at the French filmmakers of the 1920s-through-1940s, the critique being that the films were impersonal and failed to properly communicate emotionally with the Audience.  All three major "first" films of the Chabrol/Godard/Truffaut/Le Beau Serge/400 Blows/Breathless French New Wave break out on 1958-1960 were sharp, emotionally intense affairs based on the human experience of the creator.  Intensely "personal" films, the critic/auteurs of the French New Wave sought to stamp their Art with a uniquely personal vision, aided by craft and technique learned from a steady diet of viewing films, mostly in Paris.

   Aside from properly crediting Le Beau Serge as the first film of the French New Wave it is also fair to say that it is the third best of the three major films.  400 Blows is often called the best film of all time, with a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes (Breathless only has a 96%; Le Beau Serge also has a 100% but with only 8 critical opinions tabulated, vs. 50+ for both 400 Blows and Breathless.) Part of that is maybe because of how incredibly DARK Le Beau Serge is, with a plot that revolves around a dead "Mongoloid" baby, intense alcoholism and an incest/rape subplot(!) that shocks in 2013, perhaps more today than then in 1958. 

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