Que La Bete Meure

Que La Bete Meure


Reviewed by: Richard Mellor

Sick of hearing phrases like, "It has not improved in time", or "These scenes are less shocking today"? Then there's reason to delight in the DVD release of Claude Chabrol's classic Que La Bete Meure. Rather than being a relic of a thankfully forgotten age, or reminiscent of how undeveloped we all were in 1969, this taut masterpiece has improved with age. It is also, like the Breton countryside it chiefly inhabits, venerable and timeless.

Adapting a Nicholas Blake novel, Chabrol tells a most graceful and tragic story, one that is desperately simple, like a morality tale, or a maths equation. An unidentified man runs over and kills widower Charles' son. Enraged, and despairing of the police's failings, Charles dedicates his life to finding his child's killer. Thanks to a chance meeting with a farmer, the opportunity comes sooner than expected.

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Charles speaks little. In conversation, he is content to be the listener, partly so he can gauge the abilities of whomever he is talking with, but chiefly because he is overcome with grief, which festers into hatred once Charles meets Paul Decourt, obviously the guilty driver he is seeking, and a repellent character to boot. But the murderous silence persists and we must rely on Charles' diary, into which he inscribes his most violent and obsessive thoughts, for narrative revelation.

With any revenge drama, the moral balance is a tentative one. As much as we can try to identify and sympathise with Charles' grief, is it possible to empathise and stay united with him as he seeks his vengeance? Perhaps so. This is a film after all - almost a magic arena where it's okay to be nasty for 90 minutes. In this case, agreeing with Charles' retribution is made easier by Decourt's unpleasantness. It is not just the bereaved father who seeks this man's death; most of Decourt's family yearn for the same outcome, so badly does he treat them.

Subtly, Chabrol builds towards a climax without the slightest indication of what is to follow. Will Charles have enough inhumanity to carry out the act he so wants to appropriate, and if so, will he get away with it? As the avenger, Michel Duchaussoy is magnificent; the lulls at which he allows his character's stony, determined facade to cave in are perfectly calculated. Though he must keep Charles' face sullen and still, Duchaussoy works wonders with his eyes; rarely have two pupils so ably combined anger and pain.

Aided by such charisma, Chabrol shapes a brooding, tranquil film. Truly great directors do not need words to do the speaking and Chabrol makes the point of just how barren and devoid life can become through other means. In the opening scene, Charles' son runs up from the beach quietly, while Decourt's car could hardly be noisier as it unwittingly knocks him down and coldly speeds away. The blend of noise and silence immediately identifies the two forces at work.

Throughout proceedings, Jean Rabier's camera records Charles' defiant crusade for justice from odd, quirky angles. As a conversation continues on, Rabier cannot ignore a forgotten, wasted cigarette. But such capitalist rationality and common sense is a secondary consideration for Charles and Decourt.

Que La Bete Meure does show its age - the colour is bleached and pale compared to the sharpness we are now blessed with and used to. There are no special effects and none of the political considerations that often dominate today. But this is a good thing.

Chabrol's film is preserved and vintage and, above all else, utterly enjoyable.

Reviewed on: 20 Apr 2006
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Revenge is bitter for the father of a hit-and-run victim.
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Director: Claude Chabrol

Writer: Claude Chabrol, based on the novel by Nicholas Blake

Starring: Michel Duchaussoy, Caroline Cellier, Jean Yanne, Anouk Ferjac, Marc Di Napoli, Louise Chevalier, Guy Marly

Year: 1969

Runtime: 110 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: France/Italy


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