Sleek superficies and cracked complacencies, the bourgeoisie’s sham harmony: Claude Chabrol’s camera glides around a lavish drawing room until it comes to rest on the sherry glass in the protagonist’s hand, it pans up to catch the moment a grimace crosses his face and then down again to discover the glass now shattered, the hand bloodied. The tale is an incisive schema of Othello, the failed French writer (Jacques Charrier) in a German village who sees the happiness of a couple and decides "to be the party pooper." The husband (Walter Reyer) is a successful novelist, seemingly spirited but really hollowed out by the war; at his most somber, he posits apathy ("Tout m’est égal") as the root of the depravities of man and country. The wife (Stéphane Audran) is mediator, object of desire and ironic "vision of happiness," watching coolly in the background as the two men match rigid profiles across a chessboard. (Polanski offers a literally more liquid version of this image the same year in Knife in the Water, husband and hitchhiker and blade in foreground with wife splashing in the lake behind.) The eponymous third lover is the bloke Audran meets in Munich, and the catalyst for Charrier’s realization that his fantasy of the idealized couple is merely a mirror of his own desolation, but Chabrol’s original title ("The Evil Eye") is far more expressive of the film’s malefic, inquisitive gaze. A stroll through Oktoberfest shakes off the director’s last vestiges of handheld Nouvelle Vague jitteriness, judicious use of the jump-cut during Charrier’s stalking of Audran (with each snapshot shutter clicking like a tiny stab) blurs the line between voyeur and saboteur. The upshot is a Gallic Norman Bates stuck with the narrative of envy and despair he has himself spun, a key transitional work between Les Cousins and Les Biches. With Erika Tweer, Michael Munzer, and Claude Romet. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce