Le Boucher

Sorry for making this post so late. I was too tired and full of grilled veggies to really do anything productive after I watched the movie. Today's movie is really strange, but I fell in love with it after I gave it a chance. I watched Le Boucher/The Butcher, directed by Claude Chabrol in 1970.

I was sleepy when I started to watch it, and the first twenty minutes or so of the film was really underwhelming. I actually hated it. To be totally honest, had I not been arbitrarily forced to watch the movie, I would have stopped it after those 20 boring minutes and moved on. It was that dull. Then, everything picked up. Suddenly, there was an incredible plot. There was a horrible, creepy killer on the loose! It was eerie and strange, and I became really involved in the film, which felt so weird because I was so frustrated with it in the beginning. Normally, I always hear the classic rule that if a film doesn't hook you in the first ten minutes, you will not like the rest of it. This movie was different.

The movie is about Helene, a school teacher, and Popaul, a butcher. They meet at a wedding, and seem oddly interested in each other. Helene gives Popaul a fancy lighter as a gift. Lurking in the background of their relationship are a number of grisly murders. One day, out with her students to see some cave paintings, something thick and red drips onto one of Helene's student's bread. Blood. A body dangles above them, the newest victim. Helene checks out the scene, and finds Popaul's lighter there. Things start to get a little complicated.

I don't want to go and ruin the whole movie, but it's pretty obvious that Popaul is a killer. That is not interesting on its own, really. There are lots of movies about killers and women being the victims. This is something different. Why is Helene interested in Popaul? After she finds the lighter, she tells the police that she found no evidence at the crime scene. She knows he is the murderer, yet at one point, she lets him into her home and eats cherries with him, albeit nervously. There is something so much more complicated about their relationship than I would have expected. She likes him still, even knowing he could be a threat to her life.

Ebert does a great job of breaking down the uniqueness of this pair, writing, "Popaul is a killer, all right, but is he also a victim? Was he traumatized by the army, by blood and meat? Is he driven to kill because Miss Helene, who he idolizes beyond all measuring, remains cool and distant, tantalizingly unavailable? Some think that Chabrol even blames Miss Helene for the crimes; if she'd only slept with Popaul, his savage impulse would have been diverted," (Great Movies II, 251).

He continues, "But it's not that simple. (1) He is attracted to her because she is unavailable, and it's her butchy walk through the village, smoking that cigarette, that seals his fate. (2) Since (as I believe) she is excited in a perverse, obscure way by the danger he represents, does he sense that? Are his killings in some measure offerings, as a cat will lay a bird at the feet of its owner?" (Great Movies II, 251). I certainly agree with Ebert that Helene is excited by the danger that is Popaul. I'm not sure why he kills. He seems to not show any signs of being violent to Helene, although he is creepy. Maybe his theory about offerings is on the mark. I'm too sleepy to analyze any more, I'm glad that Ebert did a good job of it for me. :)

The movie is also great a being creepy. Popaul is pretty gross as he stalks around her home, and slips in back entrances as she tries to lock him out. He is always peeping into windows and creeping in shadows, and I just really enjoyed the eerie feeling this gave me. I thought her panic, at times, was very realistic - the way she almost has to dare herself to go downstairs and lock her door. Sort of gives me chills to just think about it, honestly.

This is a really great movie. I hated it the second I started watching it. The quality of the DVD I had was awful. The color was muddled and it looked really cheap and unprofessional. The plot was boring, and I didn't want to watch some dull wedding for 20 minutes. Once it got into the actual plot, though, it was amazing. I was really involved in it, and I really enjoyed the unique story and creepy atmosphere. The bad quality of the DVD sort of added to that feeling, for me, as well. It's worth renting if you want something different to check out. Let me know if you see it!

Links:
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Le Boucher
Buy it on Amazon

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