Le Beau Serge
Details: (PG), 94 mins, France, English
Synopsis: Returning home to the secluded provincial town of Sardent after a long absence, theology student François is struck by how little has changed, with the exception, that is, of his long-time friend Serge. Once a promising, extroverted architect, Serge has deteriorated into a depressive alcoholic, plagued by self-doubt and numbed by an unhappy marriage and family life. As François attempts to rescue his friend from his misery, he delves deeper into the town\'s malaise and the reasons for his sudden return to Sardent become known.
A minimalist masterpiece.
One of the very earliest films of the French New Wave, Claude Chabrol’s Le Beau Serge exemplifies many of the classic elements that defined the movement.
Chabrol was arguably, the most influential of the New Wave filmmakers. Along with Francois Truffaut and Eric Rohmer, Chabrol utilised the neo-realistic approach to filmmaking, eschewing the overtly ‘cinematic’ traditions that had ruled movies in favour of a naturalism in style, performance and technique that gave his films are compelling and immediate sense of involvement.
Shot in the director\'s childhood village of Sardent, the film chronicles the return home of Francois (Jean-Claude Brialy), the very image of a cosmopolitan Frenchman in the 1950’s. The provincial population all seem familiar, even welcoming to him, except for his boyhood friend Serge (Gerard Blain), who has grown into a drunk and violent young man; his life is a tortured one, bound to a loveless marriage, suffering through the guilt of a stillborn child. Francois must also contend with the inquisitive and powerful sexuality of Marie (Bernadette Lafont) and a township that, despite Francois’ well-intentioned efforts, begins to resent his intrusion.
Le Beau Serge deftly touches on themes and issues that were paramount to French culture and society at the time. The clash of progressive, modern thinking (as personified by Francois) with the traditionally rural way of life spoke directly to the French film community, whose New Wave filmmakers were keen to leave behind the ties to old-style farmland melodramas that had ruled Gaelic cinema for many decades. This conflict was also resonating in the larger society, as Paris became a magnet for a generation of young French men and women, many of whom left behind traditional familial roles in the heartland to experience life in the city.
Most tellingly, it unsentimentally explores the remnants of friendship. Francois is tortured by Serge’s despair but can offer little to help the man escape his downwards spiral into alcoholism and depression. The final shot is an ambiguous one – has Serge found happiness, or has he reached the depths of his madness?
Claude Chabrol displays a master\'s touch with his actors and would use all three stars again (Les Cousins, 1959; Les Godelureaux, 1961; Les Sept peches capitaux, 1962). As his status as one of the New Wave’s leading auteurs grew and his global reputation flourished, Le Beau Serge became synonymous with the minimalist European masterpieces of the period - a beautiful, bleak slice-of-life, undeniably French in style but universal in its themes and timeless to this day.
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