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  Biches, Les Obsession, Possession and Love
Year: 1968
Director: Claude Chabrol
Stars: Stéphane Audran, Jacqueline Sassard, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Nane Germon, Henri Attal, Dominique Zardi
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 2 votes)
Review: Slinky socialite Frédérique (Stéphane Audran) takes enigmatic street artist Why (Jacqueline Sassard) as her lover and they spend the winter at her plush villa in St. Tropez. Handsome architect Paul Thomas (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is a guest at one of their swinging parties where he grows enamoured with Why, but after their one night stand a jealous Frédérique seduces him, only to fall genuinely in love. Increasingly hurt by their growing closeness, Why clings to the two people she loves until desire pushes her over the edge.

After early art-house acclaim with Les Cousins (1959) and Les Bonnes femmes (1960), a lack of box-office success drove French New Wave auteur Claude Chabrol towards more commercial endeavours, including a run of spy spoofs, culminating in his failed bid to woo Hollywood with The Champagne Murders (1966). Immediately thereafter, Chabrol made Les Biches, whose title translates literally from French as “the does” alluding both to a slang word for girls and the female deer street artist Why likes to draw. Sold internationally under the salacious titles Bad Girls and, as distributed by American drive-in king Jack H. Harris, The Heterosexual (!), its flirtation with Sapphic sexuality, bohemian fashion and the darker undercurrents of the lovelorn human psyche made for a significant critical and commercial hit, and established the definitive Chabrol style: lacerating psychological studies and piercing social satires in the guise of haute bourgeois thrillers.

Like other Chabrol films Les Biches revels in its surroundings, with the crystal clear waters of St. Tropez as much a psychologically reflective surface as the recurrent mirror imagery. The opening, sun-drenched, panoramic views of Paris seduce the viewer as artfully as Frédérique seduces the willing Why, but the unfolding tale is woven with an aura of glacial chic that both unnerves and stimulates. French markets bustle with small town life, but cloistered in the villa Frédérique and her achingly hip companions clown around with almost childish fervour as though trying to fend off their world-weary ennui. “I like collecting trophies”, remarks Frédérique of her African trinkets when she may as well be talking about romantic conquests. Impeccably chic and gorgeous, our leading ladies Stéphane Audran (still early into her role as Chabrol's wife and muse) and Jacqueline Sassard (ending her career on a high after notable turns in Italian dramas and costume romps, plus Joseph Losey's Accident (1967)) are each sphinx-like presences, their surface allure masking fractured psyches.

In some areas this is a forerunner to the considerably more shallow sex-thrillers that proliferated the Nineties, although its erotic nuances are implied rather than explicit. It’s all in a glance or a touch, when Frédérique slyly observes Why naked in a bubble bath or gently caresses her navel. When she unfastens the top button on Why’s jeans, Chabrol softly fades to black - which of course, makes the whole scene that much sexier. Though ever so slightly tainted by the sexual politics of the day, in suggesting lesbianism is merely a phase women go through until loved by a real man, there is a satirical charge in how heterosexual romance completely disrupts Frédérique’s unorthodox but otherwise functional family unit.

Although the scene where Paul makes love to Frédérique while Why lurks outside, pressed against their door in dreamy-eyed ecstasy, rates among the sexiest in cinema history, Chabrol is primarily interested in how his characters toy with each others hearts and minds without heeding the psychological consequences. It is hard not to feel a slight tinge of sympathy for the way Why is cast aside, even as she grows increasingly coiffed, bejewelled, and unhinged. Desire manifest in a transformation as unsettling as that of any special effects-wrought monster. The moment Paul wanders in on Why applying makeup by the mirror and speaking in Frédérique’s voice is a typically Chabrol low-key chiller. In Les Biches, love and desire are about possessing an individual utterly, to the point when identity becomes meaningless.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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Claude Chabrol  (1930 - 2010)

A renowned director of French thrillers, he was one of the originators of the French New Wave of the fifties and sixties, often concentrating on middle class characters going through crises that led to murder, and made around fifty of these films in his long career. Starting with Le Beau Serge in 1958, he went on to direct such respected efforts as Les Cousins, The Champagne Murders, Les Biches, This Man Must Die, Le Boucher, Blood Relatives, Poulet au Vinaigre, a version of Madame Bovary with frequent star Isabelle Huppert, L'enfer, La Ceremonie, The Girl Cut in Two with Ludivine Sagnier, and his final work for the cinema, Bellamy with Gerard Depardieu.

 
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