Chabrol’s chill but sometimes suspenseful take on toxic masculinity comes in the form of four young women trying to figure out their lives in this long underseen French New Wave drama.
Dir. Claude Chabrol
1960 | France | Drama/Mystery/Romance | 100 mins | 1.66:1 | French
PG (passed clean) for some sexual references
Cast: Bernadette Lafont, Clotilde Joano, Stephane Audran, Lucile Saint-Simon
Plot: Four very different shopgirls pursue love—and are pursued—in their own ways. But the chic, glittering energy of Paris comes with a mysterious dark side…
Awards: Official Selection (Cannes)
Subject Matter: Slightly Disturbing
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
Les bonnes femmes has been for the longest time difficult to access, so thanks to MUBI, I was able to see it. A commercial failure back in the day, Claude Chabrol’s early outing has also been long due a reappraisal.
Now considered one of the best films of his early phase, and a key work of the French New Wave, Les bonnes femmes is also rather controversial, at least in comparison to the likes of, say, Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (1959) or Godard’s Breathless (1960).
An exploration of toxic masculinity in the heart of a bustling Paris, Chabrol’s work centres on four young women—all of them shopgirls with the same ‘9-5’ job—as we trail them over a few days and nights.
They would relax and unwind in the evening, with two of them subjected to sexual harassment as two conspicuous men try to seduce them inappropriately in a drunken night out. Chabrol also adds in a lone biker, who seems to be stalking one of the women.
The film caused so much resentment among the public upon its release that some went as far as breaking seats in theaters as a sign of protest.
All in all, Les bonnes femmes is a pretty chill film, quite in the carefree spirit of the French New Wave, but Chabrol adds in a dash of Hitchcockian suspense when the film calls for it.
One of the most disturbing moments involves the women—and those men—in a swimming pool, which warns us that the line between fun and death may be as fine as an extraneous nonchalant action.
Some critics have called Les bonnes femmes a compassionate work about feminism inasmuch as these women are slowly starting to imagine the life they want to lead.
However, I think it is more of a cautionary tale, that ‘good women’ (translated from ‘bonnes femmes’) is an unrealistic virtue to adopt if one were to survive in a society of beasts. In fact, Chabrol emphasises a visit to the local zoo as the centrepiece of the film, a symbolic foreshadowing if you will.