Les Biches (1968) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Les Biches is another stylish, static film from Claude Chabrol, a man often called the French Hitchcock, although for reasons usually indecipherable to me.

Chabrol's wife, Stephane Audran, plays a bored rich woman from St Tropez who seems to spend her entire life trying to pick up sexual partners of both sexes. On a trip to Paris, she picks up a female street artist and brings her back to the St. Tropez estate. During their stay in the South, both women become interested in an architect, who sleeps first with the young street artist, then the older woman. When the younger woman realizes that both of her lovers, male and female, have abandoned her to make love to one another, she sits outside their bedroom door and listens to their coupling. She is later horrified to find that the two of them have fled to Paris and left her behind in the St Tropez house.

She follows the couple to Paris, and ...

Well, I guess that's the suspenseful part of the film, so I can't reveal the denouement.

The most amusing thing about this film is not the film itself, but the praise lavished on it by those who defend it, which surely must contend with the defenses of "L'Avventura" and "Picnic at Hanging Rock" for the honor of being the most strained justification in film history. (According to its defenders, Picnic Rock is brilliant because nothing ever happens, yet you keep expecting something to happen, so you assume that certain details are important, although they turn out to be routine coincidences. L'Avventura is brilliant because it completely drops the entire main storyline about 2/3 of the way through the film, thus providing a masterful criticism of those shallow filmmakers who feel a need for sane, coherent thought, while showing how unimportant is a single person's story in the unending cosmos.)

The logic behind the defenses of Les Biches is similar:

  • Since virtually nothing happens in Les Biches, some critics view it as a masterful subversion of those callow, bourgeois filmmakers who feel a need to have stuff happen.

  • Another critic offered the observation that the fact that nothing happens for the first 93 minutes makes it that much more exciting when something does happen in the last minute. The suspense builds like pre-orgasmic sexual tension as we keep wondering if anything will ever happen.

One reviewer gave it four stars out of four, with these comments:

Les Biches is incredibly ambiguous, doesn't have much plot or even dialogue, and creeps along. The film has a lot of moods and styles, but you can't figure it out or classify it. You almost don't realize what is happening because it sweeps you along without telling you where you are going or what is important. It's not a long film, and most of what we see and hear seems inconsequential. Much of what makes it interesting is wanting to crack the film, to know what it's really about and if there's a reason behind the inclusion of the seemingly unimportant and the exclusion of all the pertinent details.

Strangely, I agree with almost everything he said. Of course, I believe all those things are negatives, not positives!

Whoa! I get it. Wow - masterful. By making a really sucky film, I could offer the ultimate intellectual criticism of those empty filmmakers who feel they have to provide enlightenment or entertainment to make the audience feel justified spending two hours with them. How shallow those fools are, who think that they should present a fast-paced story through the important and relevant details.

The obviously brilliant alternative is to present a torpid meandering stroll through inconsequential details. Genius, sheer genius!

The film does have some strengths. Audran makes her pointless, meandering walks around some of France's most evocative locales in Vogue's then-chicest line of clothing, so the sights and sounds are tres elegant. I guess you get a feeling for "anomie", "ennui", and the other words universally applied to empty, idle European lives.


A small part of Stephane Audran's bum is seen in an apres-sex scene.

DVD info from Amazon

  • Anamorphic widescreen, in the typically European 1.66 aspect ratio.

  • full-length audio commentary by two film critics

Ultimately, however, Chabrol fails to rise to the oldest challenge filmmakers have faced in their craft. If you wish to make a film about ennui-laden lives of anomie, how do you portray that on screen without making the film itself aimless and boring? Like many European filmmakers who have tried, he managed to show us how pointless and boring their lives are, but how many of you would like to sit through a couple of hours watching people whose lives are pointless and boring?

Hands, please? I don't see many hands.

Mine are down as well.

The Critics Vote

The People Vote ...


The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C-. It looks great, but making it through this film is a real endurance contest.

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