Trampled innocence is mourned in the terse preamble, a Brahms-scored hit-and-run accident leaves a moppet flattened in front of a church. The shattered father (Michel Duchaussoy) emerges from the hospital a numbed executioner, as set on retribution as a Senecan avenger. "Chance is the only thing that exists," he writes in his diary. "The tip of my pen on this paper is like everything else in the world, a coincidence." Actually, itís a mix of accident and determinist camera angles that leads him to muddy coastal Brittany and into the castle of the ogre (Jean Yanne), "a caricature of perfect evil." The getting-to-know-the-bourgeoisie long take is a bit of virtuosity that keeps framing and reframing the living-room tableau until a sharp cut introduces the beast, the dinner table is a stage for cruelties appreciated by none but Yanneís wizened mommie dearest, who caws with delight. Duchaussoyís vengeful fantasies grow thorny as he gets to know the bruteís sister-in-law (Caroline Cellier) and son (Marc Di Napoli); twice he gets the chance to snuff out the scoundrel -- at the edge of a crumby abyss and in the middle of a marine void -- yet murder in Claude Chabrolís world remains strictly a family affair. Itís "worthy of Greek drama," somebody says, or at least of Rimbaudís tale of the Prince and the Genie (Illuminations). The heroís chilly vacillation and the villainís robust joi de vivre are just a couple of examples of the streamlined understanding of Langian revenge (Rancho Notorious, The Big Heat). Stirring ambiguity complicates severe geometry -- a shot of pieces scattered across a chessboard might be the emblematic image. A dour thriller slowly becomes a showcase for Chabrolís perverse humanism, which encompasses the gentleness of Maurice Pialatís police inspector and a breakdown-confession scene in the middle of a roasted duck meal, and concludes with a sacrifice thatís less admission of guilt than declaration of love. Cinematography by Jean Rabier. With Anouk Ferjac, Louise Chevalier, Guy Marly, Dominique Zardi, Stťphane Di Napoli, and Jean-Louis Maury.
--- Fernando F. Croce