As a young critic at the influential magazine Cahiers du Cinéma, Claude Chabrol wrote glowing reviews of Alfred Hitchcock’s films and, with his colleague Eric Rohmer, a book on the Master of Suspense. When he made his own films, Chabrol gave a sly Gallic accent to Hitchcock’s tales of men fatally obsessed with women. He was an artist of grimaces and whispers, an anatomizer of eroticism, a suave coroner of desire. When a man and a woman got together in a Chabrol movie, someone was sure to end up hurt — often dead, like the lovely Clothilde Joano in Les bonnes femmes.
In telling the story of four Paris shopgirls who are as eager for love as they are disappointed by it, the film contains comic scenes both light (a man at a swimming pool sucks in his gut when he is introduced to the girls, then lets it sag when a man walks by) and dark (the shop’s older cashier keeps as a relic the handkerchief of a condemned murderer). Chabrol and his favorite screenwriter, Paul Gégauff, send their sweetest character (Joano) toward ecstasy when she meets a suitor (Mario David) under the glittering ball above a dance hall, then end her life with a snap of the neck. Les bonnes femmes ends with a new young woman, hopes high, attracting the gaze of a new young man under the same spinning ball. And the dance goes on.
Next Days of Heaven