A week after the death of the eminent film-maker, Claude Chabrol, I’ve watched one of his most famous movies, Le Boucher. It’s not exactly a homage to Hitchcock, but the influence of the master of suspense is evident in a various ways, most notably in the appealing yet repressed blonde heroine, played by Chabrol’s wife, Stephane Audran.
At a wedding in the idyllic village where she is in charge of a small school, she meets a butcher called Popaul, who has returned after 15 years in the army. They strike up a slow-burning friendship, but the community is rocked when a woman is murdered in a nearby wood. A tramp is suspected, but there are no real clues.
Soon, in a very memorable scene, a second woman’s body is discovered, during the course of a school outing. Near the corpse, the teacher discovers a lighter that she gave to the butcher. She hides it, but her trust in him is destroyed and the story develops from there through a doom-laden sequence of events.
Chabrol, who also wrote the screenplay, favoured simple plots and complicated characterisation, and this film demonstrates his approach well. It’s not in any sense a whodunit, but it is a disturbing and noteworthy example of French film. No wonder Hitchcock said he wished he’d made it.