Invaluable for the image of the aroused Stéphane Audran sticking her tongue into Michel Piccoli's ear -- the vision of respectable, middle-aged bourgies bubbling with animal ardor is very funny, affecting, sexy. Claude Chabrol examines it thoroughly as the warm human center in a lattice of dispassionate relationships (marital, political, moral), with just a dash of geometry. An exchange between Orestes and Minerva introduces views of provincial France, punctuated then with a close-up of a slender neck, the same strangled unforgettably in Les Bonnes Femmes: Clotilde Joano, the sickly wife of vice-mayor Piccoli, tells him of the cold chicken in the oven before taking to her bed; Piccoli rushes out to a rendezvous in the woods with Audran, they romp like teens and afterwards the camera follows her back home to her husband the mayor (Claude Piéplu), who awaits his chicken dinner. The illicit lovers meet at a school play and passion is ignited, they readily fuck on imperial furniture from King Ferdinand VII of Spain at the museum; Piccoli hears this "vandalism" credited to kids, and is suavely peeved. Civility and family cloak morbidity -- Audran's daughter (Eliana De Santis) yearns to see her first body and gets her wish when Joano turns up dead from a medicinal overdose, but Piéplu remains the chief refined monster, sprung fully grown out of a Georges Pompidou portrait and tranquilly businesslike once the affair is uncovered ("not accommodating... but understanding"), ready to negotiate cuckoldom for corrupt land deals. James M. Cain is swiftly invoked in the couple's retaliation, the burning of a car by the side of the road is rhymed in the incineration of a furtive love letter in the midst of an investigation. An impeccable satire, pivoting subtly on little De Santis's blend of formative morality and bourgeois paralysis: Her determination in clearing her mother's name becomes deux es machine, reopens the case ("most annoying," declares an official), and, perversely, reinstates the couple in handcuffed yet transcendental union. With François Robert, and Daniel Lecourtois.
--- Fernando F. Croce