Nearly throttled at the breakfast table, housewife Stéphane Audran pounds her drugged-out hubby (Jean-Claude Drouot) into the ground with a frying pan after he goes ape shit and tosses their young son onto a wall. And that's before the credits. The eruption of chaos into domestic order is but the first of Claude Chabrol's shocks to the system, with the all-pervasive luridness emanating from a respectably bourgeois source -- Audran's millionaire father-in-law, a Dr. Mabuse who, in a sly comment on the power of money, has Michel Bouquet's meekness rather than Rudolf Klein-Rogge's flamboyance. Looking to take control of his grandson, Bouquet hires sleazoid Jean-Pierre Cassel to dig some dirt on Audran, who has camped out at a quaint little boarding house (equipped with three hilariously nosy spinsters) while the divorce is pending. When nothing comes up, Cassel moves on to Plan B, which involves introducing the landlady's "abnormal but sweet" daughter to the pleasures of debauchery, with the aid of his nympho mistress (Catherine Rovel). Transplanting Charlotte Armstrong's English novel to one of his unloveliest visions of France, Chabrol turns up the gleeful sordidness against which Audran's decency must struggle -- she is marvelously affecting recalling her dashed family dreams to a friendly lawyer during a tram route, a mobile confessionary with echoes of Sunrise, and the filmmaker cherishes her unwavering mother love (particularly next to her moneyed in-laws, whose unsavory doting has whelped a Frankenstein monster). The LSD-'n'-balloons wrap-up is among Chabrol's wackiest, though, as befits the story's expressively cumulative hysteria, its furies can only be purged by exploding into the sky. With Annie Cordy, Jean Carmet, Angelo Infanti, and Katia Romanoff.
--- Fernando F. Croce