For me, the two directors that are truly Masters of Suspense are Claude Chabrol and Alfred Hitchcock. Chabrol, from the New Wave of the 1950s, was avowedly French whilst Hitchcock, a master of British realism, studied under Fritz Lang at the UFA studio, Britain and Hollywood.
Yesterday I watched the DVD of Chabrol’s Que meurt la Bete ( “The best kills whom”) made in 1969.
The film opens with a long, slow, tracking scene of the Brittany coastline.
A sweet child is shrimping and walking back to the town with his catch. There is an air of menace as a black Mustang is speeding through the town. The car collides with the lad and kills him.
The driver, accompanied by an attractive female passenger, does not stop.
The father of the boy wants to avenge him. He tracks down the motorist through the passenger whom he seduces.
It’s a pyschological thriller and at the end you cannot be sure who killed the awful motorist, a vulgar, bullying garage owner.
It’s a taut thriller with the requisite meal scenes more or less de rigeur in every French film – one at the garage owner’s dining room, the other a high-end restaurant where female passenger and avenging father have an intense dialogue whilst the Maitre d’ carves up a duck.
Jean Luc Godard – who recently passed away aged 91 – was one of the titans of the French New Wave cinema.
Breathless (Un bout de siffle), with Jean Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg, kick-started the movement.
It redefined the French cinema but my favourite is the later Le Mepris – starring Michel Piccoli, Brigitte Bardot and Jack Palance – a film within a film based on the Alberto Moravia novel.
Jean Luc Godard became a Marxist and his later work unintelligible. He fell out big time with Francois Truffaut who also made a brilliant film within a film La Nuit Americaine.
Both directors favoured filming the locale as it is and left a substantial legacy of work.