Les Biches (Claude Chabrol / France-Italy, 1968):

The title evokes the Ballets Russes, and there you have the sinuous, ritualistic movement. The chic huntress (Stéphane Audran) materializes in black furs and black cocked fedora, the pas de deux is with the willowy street painter (Jacqueline Sassard) who specializes in does, it moves quickly to the marble bathtub. (The overture ends on a close-up of the young protégé's moist navel, the stud on her denim pants gleams like a sapphire as it's unbuttoned.) Off then to Saint-Tropez—Vadim's turf cooled by winter and by Claude Chabrol's feline eye, not the ripe hues of desire but the muted pastels of ambiguity. Soirées, games, the baleful slapstick of a couple of mooching jesters (Henri Attal, Dominique Zardi), "and then there are intellectual pleasures." The idle maze entre femmes gains another side, the architect (Jean-Louis Trintignant) expert at poker and doubly so at sliding from one gal to another. Reversals and refinements of Les Cousins suffuse the triangle, a meticulous arrangement of perverse opposites: A nimble camera on languid figures, the image at once sharp and opaque, cultivated dissonance with "no wrong notes." Chabrol adorns the construction with droll signs (the print copy mistaken for an original, the cup of coffee too sweet for a pouty waif, a row of houses "all the same... but all different"), his heroines glide through elongated stages of seduction, domination, appropriation, annihilation. Audran enjoys the experiment of falling in love with a man while Sassard grows aloof and deadly—the metamorphosis starts at the vanity table and concludes in the mirrored Paris apartment, "it's like changing your skin." Viridiana's tacit ménage à trois is disclosed and denied, the poisoned dagger amid the mounted antlers is at last put to use. "Rien ne me surprend dans cette maison," gripes the fly in the web. (Losey is contemporary with Secret Ceremony.) Cinematography by Jean Rabier.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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