Les Bonnes Femmes-1960
Reviewed December 18, 2015
Les Bonnes Femmes is a French film by Claude Chabrol, a wonderful director that before watching this film, I was shamefully unfamiliar with, save for the recently viewed Les Biches, made in 1968. He has been labeled the French equivalent of Alfred Hitchcock and, by all accounts, that is an accurate statement. In the case of Les Bonnes Femmes, it is a brilliant film that came about during the experimental New Wave films of the 1960’s and simply cannot be forgotten upon viewing it. It has resonated with me on a profound level and I cannot stop thinking of it and analyzing it.
The film centers on four shopgirls, living in Paris, all of whom happen to be young and beautiful and mysteriously look similar to one other. Their names are Jane, Jacqueline, Ginette, and Rita. They are rather bored with their lives and meander aimlessly through life and the doldrums of their job by looking forward to social occasions, which mainly include men. The girls party (some more than others), date, go to the zoo, swim, and enjoy typical young lady festivities.
So far the film might sound like a typical, lighthearted, nice story- think a French Sex and the City. It is, by and large this way on the surface, but all throughout the film there is a calm sense of dread- like something bad might be lurking in the shadows or coming around the bend. As the girls are at the zoo one day, a mysterious individual begins following them, though the viewer has no idea why or who it is.
In fact, the film contains more than a sense of dread now that I ponder this point. Rather, a sense of chilling violence is in the air. A brooding, cold, ugly feeling transpires and it is due to superior direction and the overall mood. Paris, one of the worlds most gorgeous cities, looks bleak, dark, and gloomy throughout the film. The black and white cinematography undoubtedly adds to this as a greyness envelopes every shot.
Throughout Les Bonnes Femmes there is plenty of foreshadowing as situations arise that give a sense of danger or something bad is imminent. Early in the film, two of the girls are walking along the street when they are approached by two men in a car wanting to party with them. They accept and the viewer wonders what a bad decision they may have made. The men wine and dine the women, who are looking for love. One of the girls is quite a bit more reserved than the other, who ends up spending the night with the men. Later, the owner of the shop tells a story of how she once acquired a serial killers bloody handkerchief after he was guillotined and has kept it for years. Creepy? Yes. The tigers snarling at the girls when they visit the zoo is laced with symbolism as is a, at first, fun game at the pool, as the men dunk the girls heads underwater until things escalate towards danger.
Jacqueline, the sweetest of the girls, meets a motorcycle man and they begin to spend time together. They are happy. The irony of this is that during these later scenes, in which an act of brutality occurs (one character is murdered), the tone of the film is suddenly sunny, warm, and bright. A lovely afternoon in the woods turns evil, and quickly. This was a shocking scene for me to experience as I was caught off guard. In fact, the ending of the film can be discussed in vast detail. During the murder it almost seems like the victim is welcoming the death. Could this be? Additionally, is one of the shop girls his next intended victim or is a new girl the killers next target? In the final shot we see him dancing with a girl, but it is unclear (at least to me) if it is one of the shopgirls.
Chabrol is clearly not a happily ever after kind of director. His films are known to be stormy with dread looming. But they are also laced with style, sophistication, and a dark appeal. I cannot wait to sink my teeth into more of his works.