Film Notes: Bluebeard (Landru) (1963) by Claude Chabrol

In Bluebeard (or Landru), Chabrol for the first time offers a rationale for the actions of the protagonist. Consequently, there are two Chabrols at work here.

2.5 out of 4 stars

distortion of the image

The scene looks almost like a painting by Édouard Manet. Or it might also feel like Camille Monet on a Garden Bench by Claude Monet. In fact, Henri-Desiré Landru almost comes across Manet himself as seemed from one of his self-portraits. Or he might also appear like Claude Monet, who also had a similar beard (everyone had such a beard back then). But while that Manet (or Monet) utilized his ingenuity to create images, Landru prefers distortion of the very source of that image. He even distorts Manet’s name (‘Manet? Monet? Monot?’) and tears off a picture that Manet (or Monet) would have loved to use a source for one of his impressionistic works.

The confusion of the name seems like a distortion, or an inability to understand what is real. But one thing is pretty real, that Landru is a serial killer. He searches for women in the same way that a thirsty fellow looks for water. A restless soul looking to quench his thirst, but the thirst returns the very next moment. One might say that money is his motivation. Landru takes the money belonging to these women after they are murdered. But his actions appear driven by a higher purpose. When he returns home tired, one can sense what that purpose might be. A war is going on (the First World War). Every day thousands of young men were sacrificing themselves so that higher powers could execute their individual Balkan plans. Human life was reduced to simply being a means.

‘I am innocent!’

Landru is a product of erosion of morality rendered by a dim view of humanity. The different roles that he plays, as he moves from one woman to the next, screams of a sense of escapism. An escape from the monotone world of the respectable class which prefers leading its own material life behind closed doors. When people smell burnt bodies coming from their neighborhood, they simply close their windows off, instead of trying to find out the truth. In this cynical world, nothing is real. Chabrol begins the film by focusing on Landru’s (artificial) bald head.

A society where emotions are not ends by themselves does not deserve the privileges of morals. Through Landru then, Chabrol provides a rationale for the actions of the protagonist for the first time in his films. The Cousins, À double tour, Les Bonnes Femmes, and Wise Guys all have male protagonists whose mischiefs are self-sufficient as explanations for their existence. But Landru’s silence articulates his rationale. Before the court of law, his emphasis is not on that he did not commit the crimes, but that he is innocent. In such a world like this, should the lack of morals not be deemed as usual?

Conflict of Interests

However, there are two Chabrols at work here. One is the person accustomed to following the carefree whims of mischievous men, uneager to rationalize their eccentricity. The other is a new individual trying to interpret the constraints of modern society as the starting point for liability. Characters heeding to this latter Chabrol will become protagonists of classics like Just before Nightfall and The Butcher.

However, Landru is unsure whether it wants to mock the society, as most of Chabrol’s previous (more original) films, or conform to its laws of civilization and judgment. But lack of direction does not denote an absence of form and composure, it only indicates that parody and responsibility do not gel with one another.

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film notes: wise guys (1961) by Claude Chabrol

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