Les noces rouges

cast: Stephane Audran, Michel Piccoli, Claude Pieplu, Clotilde Joano, Eliana De Santis

director: Claude Chabrol

98 minutes (15) 1973
Fremantle / Arrow DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Andrew Hook

In Les noces rouges (aka: Red Wedding; Blood Wedding; Wedding In Blood), Claude Chabrol – often considered the Hitchcock of French cinema – examines small town bourgeoisie politics and morals, in a tragicomic movie that is mostly satisfying despite the suddenness of its ending.

Lucienne (Stephane Audran) is a bored housewife married to Paul Delamaire (Claude Pieplu), the local mayor, in a loveless marriage of convenience that she tolerates because of Paul’s acceptance of her daughter from a previous relationship. Tolerance seems, in fact, Delamaire’s main character trait, and his emotions rarely stray into passion or enthusiasm. Lucienne and her daughter are often complicit in their ridicule of him, laughing whilst he sleeps and sharing asides in his presence.

Also in a love-locked marriage, is Pierre (Michel Piccoli), the deputy mayor, whose wife (Clotilde Joano) is chronically ill and completely lacklustre in character. She cannot bear to be touched. Pierre begins an impassioned, all-consuming affair with Lucienne – snatching meetings in the woods and in a museum – until Delamaire discovers their relationship. His reaction is so unexpected that they cannot deal with it, and subsequently conspire to murder him.

The movie is similar to Chabrol’s Juste avant la nuit in the way that the cuckolded partners accept infidelity and live their lives around it. However, this comatose non-reaction proves unbearable to Lucienne. Pierre has already murdered his wife by overdosing her with medicine, so despite being given licence for their affair the precedent has been set for the murder to come.

The irony is that after the crime has been committed Lucienne and Pierre force themselves to stay apart for fear of raising suspicion. In fact, the only physical contact between them subsequent to the murder is to hold hands whilst handcuffed in the back of a police car.

As well as being a taut thriller, the movie is also a satire, with numerous comic moments that offset the drama. Lucienne and Pierre’s passions are animal in their intensity – the first time we see them they almost attack each other in their passion, literally pouncing upon one another. Paul is also revealed as corrupt, wishing to work with Pierre to negotiate a land deal that will make him even richer. When the police investigate his murder and disbelieve Lucienne’s story, they receive a telephone call from the government to drop the case. So whilst this works as a psychological drama, it is also an attack on the values of the bourgeoisies and their place in French society. It is also worth noting that the movie was banned in France upon its release due to similarities to a real life murder.

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Audran burns in her role as a very sexual, sensual, desirable woman and Piccoli does a sterling portrayal of a man consumed by passion. Whilst Pieplu’s role is played as stoically as his character dictates, this does make him rather a caricature at times. Overall, this is a solid French drama that is worth a look, but it lacks some of the inventiveness often found in their cinema of that period.