Director: Claude Chabrol
Starring: Gérard Blain, Jean-Claude Brialy, Michèle Méritz, Bernadette Lafont
Duration: 98 min.
Francois returns to his home village after more than a decade in the city. He notices that the village hasn't changed much, but the people have, especially his old friend Serge who has become a drunkard. A concerned Francois attempts to find out what happened to Serge and to help him.
Le beau Serge is the debut film from Claude Chabrol. A self financed effort that is considered by many to be the first feature film of the French New Wave.
Unlike the rest of his fellow Cahiers du Cinema colleagues who cut their teeth on experimental short films, Chabrol went straight for a feature. Here we can see the evidence of a first time director who shows glimpses of talent but hasn't quite yet worked out his own style, with a film that really fits more in line with old school French cinema than those of his peers, displaying only a few hints of the movement that was to come.
It's the story of Francois (Jean-Claude Brialy) a sickly young man who returns to his native village in rural France after several years in Paris, to get some rest. There he discovers that his old best friend Serge (Gerard Blain) is now a drunk and a shadow of his former self, and Francois takes it upon himself to figure out what has become of his old friend and to try and pull him out of his miserable life. A bit like a cross between Hitchcock's Shaadow of a Doubt and Bresson's Diary of a Country Priest though without the brilliant suspense of the former or the all encompassing bleakness of the latter.
It really is a stretch to call this a New Wave film, but there are a couple elements that could be argued that Le Beau Serge shares with the movement. Most obvious is the character of Serge, essentially a clone of the hard drinking, leather jacket wearing, Hollywood inspired bad-boy so revered by the directors of the New Wave. Also this shares the same rough around the edges feel made famous by its contemporaries. However, this second point might just be a coincidental symptom of novice and low budget filmmaking rather than an intentional choice of style, since Chabrol's later work has generally been more polished and mainstream looking than the others.
I thought the overall characterizations and ending sequence were very well done. However had some issues with the editing, its often difficult to tell how much time has passed from one scene to the next, and especially with the soundtrack, some of the music cues were jarringly over dramatic and out of place. Worth a look for those interested in the origins of the French New Wave, but not a particularly memorable nor an essential film.
— Bonjour Tristesse