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Beautiful Serge  
Claude Chabrol
1958 || 97 mins

Francois (Jean-Claude Brialy), a theology student suffering from TB, returns from Paris to his small hometown village to recuperate. It’s been ten years since he last set foot in the place and he’s shocked to find that his childhood friend Serge, once a promising architect, is now a hopeless drunk. Serge (Gerard Blain) is bitter about the stillborn death of his first child, and has fallen out of love from his wife Yvonne (Michele Meritz). Despite hostility from the villagers, Francois is determined to do what he can to help his friend.

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Often cited as the first New Wave feature film, Le Beau Serge was an assured and technically accomplished debut by Claude Chabrol. Its innovative combination of documentary-like realism and weighty melodrama was something new, and reflected the influence of Rossellini and Hitchcock on the young director. Like “the master of suspense”, Chabrol plays on the theme of “the double”, constantly emphasizing, through dialogue and visuals, the differences between the two main characters. Francois and Serge are mirror opposites, locked in a power struggle until the final moments.

Shot in Chabrol’s own home village of Sardent, the film portrays a bleak picture of provincial life. At first one feels a certain sympathy for the characters trapped by circumstance in the suffocating atmosphere of the village, but as the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that they themselves are largely responsible for the way their lives have turned out. The narrative proceeds with no great urgency, with the focus instead on character, setting and philosophical discourse. At times the Catholic symbolism and impassioned music can seem heavy handed, yet the attention to detail and committed performances ground the film in authenticity.

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