Even as we celebrate Jean-Luc Godard finally getting his (cheapened, rather meaningless) shot at Oscar glory, the news comes out of Paris today that Claude Chabrol, one of Godard’s peers and a critical mover in the French New Wave, has died at the age of 80.
Like Godard, François Truffaut, Jacques Rivette and Eric Rohmer, Chabrol burst on to the French film scene as a young critic for André Bazin’s magazine “Les Cahiers du Cinema” in the 1950’s. A family inheritance gave him enough money to found his own production company, and in 1957 he made “Le Beau Serge,” the true first film of the New Wave. The film was a smash hit both critically and commercially, and we should not forget that it was only because Chabrol attached his name to the project as a producer that Godard was even able to make the revolutionary “Breathless” in 1960. Chabrol served as a patron to several other of his friends who wanted to make their first films, so without him the New Wave would’ve been all but impossible.
Chabrol’s pieces in “Cahiers du Cinema” in the 50’s on Alfred Hitchcock are also almost single-handedly responsible for raising the great British director from “great entertainer” status to that of an auteur. Many of his best films, especially “Le Boucher” and “La Femme Infidele” clearly reflect the influence of Hitchcock on Chabrol (Hitchcock himself said he wished he had made “Le Boucher”).