Ten Days' Wonder (French, 1971):
(La Décade Prodigieuse)

Though usually locked behind gates of sardonic coolness, hints of troubled Catholicism have studded Claude Chabrol's work as early as the veiled hellfire and redemption routines in Le Beau Serge. Long dismissed by the director, his religious knots nevertheless make a full-blown if befuddling appearance in this odd whodunit. Anthony Perkins, a young sculptor with a weird penchant for waking up in strange hotels with his memory wiped clean and bloodied hands, invites a former professor (Michel Piccoli) to the Gatsby-like provincial manor presided over by his powerful tycoon father (Orson Welles). Welcomed by Welles' young wife (Marlene Jobert), Piccoli soon finds a nest of rats beneath the bourgeoisie voluptuousness -- a clan bound in a circle of illicit romance, blackmail, faked burglaries and, of course, murder. The movie kicks off like a lampoon of psychological drama, with angles so tilted I expected Perkins to slide off the screen, before camping out in the insidiously opulent décor of the mansion, with its maze-like corridors and family secrets (including a raving granny stashed away in one of the rooms). Just as it looks like Chabrol chose the Ellery Queen material for another insects-under-the-microscope stab a la Le Scandale, the film unleashes a tide of Christian imagery -- a broken Commandment for each of the ten days, crosses, talk of souls, facsimiles for the Garden of Eden and the crucifixion, and the shaping of Welles' melancholic patriarch into a malevolent God-figure. The screenplay (by Paul Gégauff, Eugene Archer and Paul Gardner) spells things out laboriously, but Chabrol's prowling camera foregrounds the dialogue's artificiality with cannily somnambulistic performances. Like most of the great anti-thrillers of the '70s (The Spider's Stratagem, Night Moves, The Parallax View), the film leads not to the restoration of social order but to its very disintegration, with no redemption but a fuller awareness of human evil. One of Chabrol's most off-putting movies, but essential to the darkening of his vision. With Guido Alberti.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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