Claude Chabrol's dissection of the living-dead bourgeoisie, though to tastemakers his major affront was dynamiting Le Beau Serge's promise of French neorealism in favor of expressive artifice—the colors pop, the lenses glide and circle, there are scrims, aquariums, and mirrors, mirrors, mirrors. A slow lateral pan surveys the remains of a Tashlin set to end on a mesmerist's wheel, on which the opening credits roll; a window slams open and the camera glances out (the Renoir connection), Bernadette Lafont leans out in her bra and panties to tease the gardener with the huge shears, the camera then dollies back through a keyhole for a jolt of subjective peeping (the Clouzot connection). The setting is a vineyard cottage, the timeline is kept rigorously from morning to night: the pallid paterfamilias (Jacques Dacqmine) is wed lovelessly to matriarch Madeleine Robinson, the son (André Jocelyn) conducts Berlioz in his room and feels up lil sis Jeanne Valérie, who loves wild 'n' crazy Jean-Paul Belmondo. Belmondo arrives in a raucous Nouvelle Vague flurry, prole handheld shots unsettling the languid aristocratic tracking around the mansion; his gusto at the breakfast table disgusts Robinson, to whom manners matter (she can stomach her husband's affair with Antonella Lualdi, the puffy-mouthed ingénue next door, as long as the scandal is avoided). Belmondo may own up to "a bit of nasty character," yet at least he never keeps it leashed, unlike the moneyed ghouls who feign order while tending to unsavory tensions like poppy fields—"Behold, my wife," Dacqmire grabs Robinson by the hair (Chabrol shock-cuts to the peacock cackling outside) while Jocelyn tracks down Lualdi to showcase reservoirs of Oedipal hysteria, which accumulates until a fist smashes a mirror. A pair of severe flashbacks folds the plot onto itself, although Chabrol recognizes a lush architecture already crumbling from within: his "sordid insects" feel the pull of exposure that can illuminate and destroy them, the film closes as a lamp is turned on. With László Szabó, and Mario David.
--- Fernando F. Croce