• Les Biches



    Released by: Umbrella Entertainment
    Released on: April 5th, 2017.
    Director: Claude Chabrol
    Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Jacqueline Sassard, Stéphane Audran
    Year: 1968

    The Movie:

    Les Biches is a superbly woven tale of the jealous possession and use of other people, with comments on the friendship of women, against a backdrop of flirtatious bisexual themes, the classic love triangle and of course, the French upper class. Frédérique (Stéphane Audran) is a wealthy and sophisticated woman who comes across a young woman painting chalk pictures of does for money on a Paris sidewalk. She drops a 500 Franc note down for the girl amongst the change that other people have tossed. The girl starts to leave and then comes back to ask her why she left the large amount of money for her. The girl introduces herself as Why (Jacqueline Sassard), and Frédérique invites her back to her apartment for a hot bath and coffee. Why is wary and sullen with the attention and care Frédérique lavishes on her, but the ending scene of this interlude shows Frédérique completely in control. It also demonstrates her obvious attraction to the younger woman.

    Soon they are off to Frédérique’s villa in St. Tropeze, which is occupied by two flamboyant men that are likely gay (though it is not specifically implied that they are gay until later in the movie, when they are called ‘fairies’). Soon Frédérique and Why are enjoying activities around town. Here we see clips showing them at parties, playing bowls, shopping and more. Their physical relationship is never really specifically implied or shown, other than a scene where Frédérique is petting Why’s hair like a beloved pet.

    At one of the many parties a young architect named Paul (Jean-Louis Trintignant) becomes entranced with Why, who seemingly returns his attention wholeheartedly. Why leaves the house, almost defiantly, to catch up with him. Amused by this behavior, Frédérique has her two housemates follow them. Why tells Paul that the two men are following them (they haven’t been very covert) because it amuses Frédérique, and tells him to kiss her so that it can be reported back to Frédérique. They go back to Paul's place where Why spends the night.

    When Why shows up the next morning Frédérique is very casual and cheery. She surprises Why by not seeming to care that Why has spent the night with a man. She tells Why that she just wants her to be happy. However, in the next scene Frédérique is visiting Paul at the building he is working on and starts grilling him about his affection for Why. They end up getting drunk and fooling around, and Paul misses the date he had planned with Why.

    Meanwhile, Why is shown playing bowls and looking at her watch. She stares at every vehicle that comes by, becoming more and more dejected that Paul has not arrived to meet her. She races all over town looking for Paul and even goes to his apartment, but eventually goes back to the villa she cries.
    Frédérique comes in with Paul and tells everyone that she is going to Paris with him. She asks Why if Why minds, and Why says she doesn't. Why asks to stay there at the villa while she is gone, and Frédérique tells her she can. Why becomes reclusive and self-isolated while they are gone. Frédérique comes back with Paul, and she tells Why that she has asked Paul to move in and that they are in love. She tells Why that she hasn’t felt this way about a man in a long time, and she hopes Why doesn't mind. Why seems to take the news calmly but her mental state is questionable, as one scene shows Paul finding Why dressed and made up like Frédérique.

    The two housemates detest Paul being there and one of them tries to get Why to help them get rid of him. Why tells Frédérique and then she frames the two men, knowing that Frédérique will kick them out. The next day Why has made the couple breakfast and appears very happy at the reduced size of the household. Later that night they are drinking and listening to music, and they steadily get drunker. As the tone becomes more flirtatious, Why tries to show affection for both of them, and even attempts to kiss Paul in a more than friendly manner. When you see Why at their bedroom door listening in on their lovemaking, you realize how all-consuming her obsession has become, and it all leads up to a twist ending that would make Hitchcock proud (there’s a reason that Chabrol is often compared to the master of suspense).

    Much like The Unfaithful Wife (directed by Chabrol the same year), Les Biches is a subtly careful examination of love, sexual compulsion and obsession. Chabrol uses his camera to subtly build tension scene by scene. He takes his time and builds his story slowly and carefully, making you care about the characters and pulling you into their situations whether you like it or not. Having said that, as strong as the direction and cinematography are the performances in this picture are equally important. Jean-Louis Trintignant has always been leading man material. He’s handsome, he exudes confidence and charisma, and he’s just naturally cool. Chabrol’s savvy enough to ensure that the audience understands why the two women in the film would fall for him the way that they do. Likewise, Jacqueline Sassard is portrayed in such a way that you can see why both Paul and Frédérique would be drawn to her. She’s quite beautiful (and bears a bit of a resemblance to Edwige Fenech) but also has an innocent quality to her that gives her character a fragility that suits the storyline. Stéphane Audran, the icy opportunist of the film, is also very fetching. Her character, at least to start with, is cold, manipulative and clearly used to getting what she wants. Her affluent lifestyle ensures that most of the time she gets it. All three performances here are great, with each of the principal cast members crafting a distinctive and interesting character.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    The film is presented in an anamorphic 1.66.1 widescreen transfer that looks okay but which is clearly taken from an old analogue master. It’s a shame anyone has yet to give this picture a Blu-ray release as it’s beautifully shot and could potentially look excellent in high definition, but this DVD is watchable enough. Colors are decent but faded, black levels are closer to grey. There is only minimal print damage here and there. Again, this won’t blow you away but it’s watchable.

    The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono soundtrack is in French with English subtitles burned into whatever source was used for the picture. It is clean, clear and easy to follow without any audible hiss or distortion worth noting. There are a few instances here and there that sound maybe a little bit flat but otherwise, no issues here – this seems like an accurate representation of the source material.

    There are no extras on the disc.

    The Final Word:

    Les Biches really is one of Claude Chabrol’s best pictures. It’s smart, well made and it features some very strong performances. Umbrella’s DVD is, sadly, barebones but it looks and sounds alright (even if most fans would likely have preferred a Blu-ray release).