Chabrol is a director whose best work is done in the margins of broad moral argument. The films of his so-called ‘Golden Period’ from the late 60s to the early 70s are a series of incendiary attacks upon an upper middle class morally corrupt enough to murder for the sake of social standing. In films such as Les Noces Rouges (1973), La Femme Infidele (1969), Que La Bete Meure (1969) and Juste Avant La Nuit (1971) wealthy people murder their way out of bad relationships and awkward situations. They do this, more often than not, because they simply lack the imagination to solve their problems any other way. And therein lies the strength of Chabrol’s vision.
Chabrol presents the bourgeoisie as morally corrupt but also deeply tragic figures. For all of their wealth and privilege, they are trapped inside a system that forces them to care about the wrong things. For example, in Les Noces Rouges, a couple find illicit love but when they are uncovered by the woman’s husband, they are shocked to discover that he does not mind their affair. If anything, he sees it as a positive development as it will keep his wife happy and ensure her lover’s loyalty to him. Incapable of understanding his cunning rejection and manipulation of bourgeois moral codes, the lovers murder him thereby sealing their fates. Similarly, in Que La Bete Meure, a man tracks down the killer of his child only to discover that the man’s entire family want him dead. They want him dead but they lack the courage to simply leave him or to denounce his many cruelties. As cowardly and morally corrupt these characters might appear, they are also the tragic victims of a twisted social order. An order that uses money and privilege to trap them in a situation whereby the characters are forced to deny their own feelings of unhappiness and claustrophobia.
La Rupture (a.k.a. the Break-up, based upon Charlotte Armstrong’s 1968 novel The Balloon Man) is, at first glance, not Chabrol’s most subtle film. It summons up Chabrol’s typically louche and corrupt bourgeoisie but makes it appear all the more monstrous and deranged for the fact that it is attacking an almost saintly working class woman. As horrors and injustices are melodramatically heaped upon her, it seems as though there can be no excusing or forgiving such behaviour. But, once the film ends, you realise that the character responsible for all of these terrible crimes might have been different. He might have been free. La Rupture is a film about the breaking of a picaroon upon the wheel of modern capitalism.