Alluring and glossy, it is Jules and Jim (1962) with sexier characters, Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971) in a more elegant setting, The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1986) with less fat to carry. It is conceptually stunning, opportune for emotional breakdowns galore and sexual entanglements by the dozen. It is sometimes ravishing in its execution, too: the way Chabrol regards the visages of the actresses Audran and Sassard, both reminiscent of silent-era starlets with their supple lips, sphynx eyes, and runway bodies, is as galvanizing and sensual as it is complementary to their strengths as believable onscreen personalities.
But like a lot of other minor Chabrol excursions, which have dealt with the dramas of the upper class akin to his masterpieces, Les Biches is so careful and mannered in its every action that it appears stiff, too afraid of breaking a nail. In many other cases, as in Chabrol's magnum opus La Cérémonie (1995), that meticulous rigidity worked to the film’s benefit, making its shocker of an ending bruise all the more badly. But in the case of this movie, which we gather is supposed to be palpably carnal, the aloofness seeps too deeply into the feature’s pores. It is cold and slippery when it should be pulsating, sensorily antagonistic.
Whereas Chabrol’s underrated Merci pour le Chocolat (2000), for example, suggested that all the foreboding sequences of quiet were merely ploys to make us suspicious of its characters, Les Biches’ attempts at disconcertion feel too deliberate, and ultimately pay off in a predictable, underwhelmingly executed ending. (Though it is refreshingly nihilistic.)
The movie still does enforce a certain sort of enrapturing sexual tension, and the chemistry between Audran and Sassard is electric. Trintignant’s cunning portrayal makes for an interesting interruption of the relationship initially experienced between the former two.
But I wish Chabrol would loosen up his style a bit here – so many shots suggest that the film could have been a much more erotically potent if he leaned harder into the melodramatic possibilities in store. But, alas, soap is not Chabrol's style. Imagine if it were every so often, though, and imagine that Les Biches were an example of the pandering. Then Audran’s piercing eyes might actually cut into us. B-
1 Hr., 35 Mins.
Les Biches November 30, 2017
es Biches (1968), co-written and directed by the great French auteur Claude Chabrol, is a better idea than it is a feature-length. About the ménage à trois relationship between a wealthy brunette (Stéphane Audran), a penniless artist (Jacqueline Sassard), and a suave architect (Jean-Louis Trintignant), it is an elegant psychosexual romantic drama that increases in its various obsessions and visual provocations until all reaches a disturbing, unforgettable breaking point.