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REVIEW – Le Beau Serge (1958)

April 10, 2013

LeBeauSergeFilmJuice have my review of Claude Chabrol’s first film Le Beau Serge, which has just been re-released by Masters of Cinema.

Le Beau Serge tells of a young man who returns to his home town in order to recuperate from an extended period of illness. Upon arriving, he becomes obsessed with a childhood friend who, despite showing real signs of intelligence and potential as a child, has now fallen into drink and bitterness. Puzzled by this unexpected fall from grace, the young man sets about trying to solve the riddle of what happened to the handsome Serge of his youth:

While much of the initial narrative energy comes from François’s attempts to solve the mystery of le beau Serge, the second half of the film increasingly comes to focus upon why it is that François is so obsessed with saving first Serge, then Marie and then the entire village. Though Chabrol offers us no easy answers, the depth of François’s guilt is such that his attempts to protect Serge and his family eventually come to seem insane and messianic. Why doesn’t François leave? Why didn’t Serge leave? Why doesn’t anyone leave a life that is manifestly killing them?

Chabrol is a director with a somewhat misleading reputation for producing thrillers. Though many of his most famous films (including Le Boucher, This Beast Must Die and La Ceremonie) include a bloody murder and a good deal of psychological tension, the truth of the matter is that Chabrol is and always was a moralist. Not in the sense of lecturing people about right and wrong but rather exploring why it is that people make certain decisions and how they come by certain strange beliefs. Unlike Chabrol’s later films, which dressed the morality up in murder and tension, Le Beau Serge strips the core of the Chabrol experience right back to the very core and asks two very salient questions: Why did Serge turn to drink? Why is Francois obsessed with saving him? A truly wonderful film by a truly wonderful director.

Interestingly, Masters of Cinema have chosen to re-release Le Beau Serge on the same day as they re-release his second film Les Cousins. As I explain in my review of that film over at FilmJuice, the two films function as a pair: Complementing each other through their many differences and juxtapositions.

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