French director Claude Henri Jean Chabrol was born on June 24, 1930. Along with directors such as Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut, he was a member of la Nouvelle Vague. His early days were hardly worthy of being filmed. He was born in a village 150 miles south of Paris and always considered himself to be a bit of a hick no matter how long he lived in the big city. Like his father and grandfather as well, Chabrol was expected to be a pharmacist, but he was passionately interested in cinema from his adolescence. He even organized a film club where he could show movies in a barn.
He went to Paris for his university studies and dutifully enrolled in a pharmacology program, but he added literature to his course work and his eventual degree was in that domain. He spent a lot of time at various ciné-clubs where he met like minded young men. And like his contemporaries, he became a film critic for the influential magazine Cahiers du Cinéma. He felt that the best films drew the viewers into the story in such a way that they became part of the action.
His first wife received a significant inheritance and Chabrol used it to make his directorial début. Unlike other filmmakers, Chabrol did not start with a short film or by assisting another director, but rather he jumped in at the deep-end with a feature-length film entitled Le Beau Serge. It is considered to be the first Nouvelle Vague film and it was a critical and commercial success. (I hope he paid his wife back, particularly since they divorced subsequently so he could marry one of his leading-ladies!) His early success didn’t go to his head; he helped his fellow film-makers by giving them un-shot film when he was done a project or by taking small acting roles in their projects.
Chabrol was inspired by Hitchcock and thrillers were where he made his mark. As a teen, he had become a big fan of mysteries, and this passion continued in his films. He met his idol in person and co-wrote a book about him with Éric Rohmer. Over the course of his 50-year career, he directed an average of one film a year. Difficulties in finding financing led him to direct increasingly commercial films and away from the experiments of la Nouvelle Vague.
A fun-fact is that many of his movies were based on characters named Charles, Paul, and Hélène. They had different personalities and different fates but the same names. Another fun-fact is that he was a great fan of fine cuisine and would sometimes pick his film locations to be near particular restaurants. He was awarded le Prix René Clair by l’Académie française in 1995 for his life-time of work. Chabrol died on September 12, 2010.
Chabrol was a great quipster. One of his comments that made me laugh out loud was, “La bêtise est infiniment plus fascinante que l’intelligence… L’intelligence a des limites, la bêtise n’en a pas !” (lah beteez et an-fin-ee-mehn ploo fass-ee-nahnte kuh lan-tell-ee-zjahnse… lan-tell-ee-zjahnse ah day leemeat, lah beteez non ah pah). This means “Stupidity is infinitely more fascinating than intelligence… Intelligence has limits, stupidity does not.” Too funny.