Claude Chabrol exposed his own complicity in the bourgeois world he skewers via withering self-caricature (alongside wife Stéphane Audran) in the La Muette episode of Paris Vu Par..., then filmed Paul Gégauff, screenwriter and fellow misanthrope, pushing even further. A family affair -- Gégauff based the storyline on his own marital breakup and plays abusive male ego to wife Danièle through an implacable erosion of upper-class bliss. The plot opens on the couple's happiness on a fishing trip with a young daughter (Clemence Gégauff) in tow, making love by the shore then returning to their luxurious country home, though not before a crab is cracked open in close-up (later, a spider devours a trapped bug -- "C'est la vie"). Paul, fit and graying and frequently shirtless, nevertheless feels menopausal pangs, casually tells his wife of his several affairs and encourages her to feel free to sleep around, as well. Libertine intent quickly hits its head on the ceiling of selfish possessiveness, and he publicly turns contemptuous of Danièle's increasing autonomy, paranoid less about her body than about her mind. "Freedom is a pain," Gégauff intones at a party, though this is Chabrol's Scenes from a Marriage, with both sides allowed emotional complexities while a visit to the wax museum (complete with a Landru dummy) assures us that the violence fecund within this relationship will erupt, sooner than later. People drift apart, yet the husband insists on the idealized stability of his family (or at least his dream of one), blind to how egotistical brutality laces his longing, Gégauff the writer dramatizing his own male-entitlement anxiety while exposing it up on the screen. "I believe in transcendence" over a pan across a graveyard, yet the bars waiting by the end are Lang's, not Bresson's, thus a final clank in Chabrol's grinding machine of chauvinist excoriation. With Paula Moore, Michel Valette, and Giancarlo Sisti.
--- Fernando F. Croce