Widely credited as the founding father of the French Nouvelle Vague movement, Claude Chabrol is responsible for a body of work that is as prolific as it is boldly defined. A master of the suspense thriller, Chabrol approaches his subjects with a cold, distanced objectivity that has led at least one critic to liken him to a compassionate but unsentimental god viewing the foibles and follies of his creations. Inherent in all of Chabrol's thrillers is the observation of the clash between bourgeois value and barely-contained, oftentimes violent passion. This clash gives the director's work a melodramatic quality that has allowed him to drift between the realm of the art film and that of popular entertainment.
Born in Paris on June 24, 1930, Chabrol was educated at the University of Paris, where he was a pharmacology student, and at the Ecole Libre des Sciences Politiques. Following some military service, he developed an interest in the cinema and worked for a brief time in the publicity department of 20th Century Fox's French headquarters. Chabrol's true film career began during the 1950s, when he became one of a legendary group of critics for Cahiers du cinéma. Writing alongside the likes of Eric Rohmer (with whom he wrote a groundbreaking study of Alfred Hitchcock), Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette, and François Truffaut, Chabrol developed theories of authorship that are still influential today, and attempted to revolutionize the cinematic value system.
One of the founders of the Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) movement, Chabrol began his filmmaking career in 1958 as the director, writer, and producer of Le Beau Serge. Modeled after Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt, the film charted the visit of an ailing city-dweller (Jean-Claude Brialy) to his hometown, where he is reunited with his childhood friend (Gérard Blain), who is now a self-pitying alcoholic. Their transference of personal guilt, and then, in the words of Chabrol scholar Charles Derry, "exchange of redemption," gave audiences an initial taste of the deeply-psychological situations Chabrol would continue to examine with chilly objectivity throughout his career, and established him as an important new talent.
Chabrol's next film, Les Cousins (1959), proved to be another great critical success, earning a Best Film award at the Berlin Film Festival. Reuniting Jean-Claude Brialy and Gérard Blain as two cousins who are polar opposites, the film continued to develop Chabrol's distanced approach to his subjects, and also introduced the director's use of the names "Charles" and "Paul," names he would continue to use in a number of his films to represent, respectively, the more serious bourgeois man and his pleasure-seeking counterpart. The same year he made Les Cousins, Chabrol released his first color feature, À Double Tour; a crime drama centering on the effects of the murder of a woman upon a dysfunctional family, it contained a measured critique of bourgeois moral values and the social and familial causes of violence.
These films, as well as L'Oeil du malin (1962) -- which revolved around another triangle formed by a bourgeois couple and an outsider -- constituted what many critics refer to as the more "personal" works of Chabrol's early period. When they failed to do well at the box office, he turned to more commercial assignments (such as Le Tigre Aime la Chair Fraiche, 1964) that tended to alienate the critics who had championed his previous efforts. The director again won critical favor in 1968 with Les Biches, a psychological drama that addressed one of the central themes of his work, that of an outsider affecting a relationship between two people. The film, which revolved around the intrusion of a man (Jean-Louis Trintignant) upon a lesbian relationship, was a critical success, and heralded a new, more mature phase of Chabrol's career. The film also starred Stéphane Audran, an actress who was both Chabrol's muse and, for