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  This Man Must Die Stone Cold Vengeance
Year: 1969
Director: Claude Chabrol
Stars: Michel Duchaussoy, Caroline Cellier, Jean Yanne, Anouk Ferjak, Marc Di Napoli, Louise Chevalier
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: From a bird’s eye view we watch as a little boy plays alone on the beach. Above him a car circles the hillside. He climbs the hill, crosses the road and in an instant, is hit and killed. A female passenger screams. The driver coldly tells her to shut up, then races on. Thus begins this devastating psychological thriller by Claude Chabrol.

Traumatised by his son’s senseless death, children’s writer Charles Thenier vows vengeance upon the person responsible. Charles’ investigation lead him to actress Helène Lanson (Caroline Cellier), whom he romances as a pretext to identifying the real culprit, her brother-in-law Paul Decourt (Jean Yanne). Spending a weekend at their house by the sea, Charles soon discovers Paul is a monster, who bullies his wife and son (Marc Di Napoli). It seems he may not be the only one who wants to see this man dead…

Of all the many complex and literate thrillers Claude Chabrol has made, This Man Must Die is surely the closest comparable to his spiritual mentor Alfred Hitchcock, in terms of thematic preoccupations. Unlike Hitch, Chabrol largely avoids set-pieces yet nonetheless weaves a dense and suspense-laden narrative that compels from start to finish. Obsession drives the narrative, with its allusions to classical Greek tragedy, as Chabrol contrasts Charles’ clinically cool demeanour against his increasingly impassioned voiceover. This is a man hurtling down a road of no return and just as his son fell victim, there are innocent casualties from Charles’ revenge.

A Death Wish style revenge thriller would have characterised Paul as a total scumbag. A more ambitious, yet still conventional, filmmaker might paint him more sympathetic. Chabrol opts for something altogether trickier and more fascinating: he does both. Comedian/filmmaker/counterculture figure Jean Yanne turns in performance of swaggering malevolence, one that prefigures his altogether subtler turn in Chabrol’s Le Boucher (1970). Paul appears onscreen for the first time, furious and foul-mouthed as disrupts a typically Chabrollian civilised dinner party. He smashes crockery, fondles the maidservant under the table, bad mouths his wife’s cooking and generally humiliates her and their son in front of his guests. Everybody hates his guts, except his elderly mama who laughs uproariously over every insult and violent outburst. Yet Charles’ gentle psychological probing uncovers a more complex character, a raging, inarticulate yet still pitiable figure.

The deeply nuanced, vulnerable and affecting performances by Michel Duchaussoy and Caroline Cellier leave one suitably startled by shock moments, as when Charles nearly strangles Helène for manhandling his son’s teddy bear, or when she calmly suggests they kill Paul together. Working with master cinematographer Jean Rabier, Chabrol weaves an atmosphere of moody melancholy, enhanced by the atypically cloudy skies above the French coastline. It isn’t entirely doom and gloom however, as the bleak story is leavened by moments of pathos and humanity and even sly wit as renowned gourmet Chabrol stages the most tearful confrontation right beside a sumptuous dinner of roast duck. Just when the film seems to be building to a violent climax, he throws a series of devastating twists underlining the message that vengeance destroys everything, including the perpetrator, utterly.

Click here for the trailer

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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