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After years of absence, terminally ill Francois (Jean-Claude Brialy)
returns to his rural hometown - to find it changed, not so much the
buildings but the people though.
Especially Serge (Gérard Blian), a guy
he once idolized, has taken a turn for the worse. Thing is, he was once
forced to marry his girlfriend Yvonne (Michèle Méritz) after he
impregnated her, and when the baby died at two months of age, that threw
him off the rails. In his way, Francois is in love with Serge, and he
wants to fix his old friend's life, but whatever he tries, he only seems
to make things worse and actually seems to drive Serge and Yvonne apart.
Then he starts a sexual relationship with Yvonne's underage sister Marie
(Bernadette Lafont), which seems to be above everything else a substitute
action for actually being as close to Serge as he wants. Eventually,
Marie's father (Edmund Beauchamp), a notorious drunk who's not actually
her father which is an open secret, learns about the relationship, forces
Francois to confirm he isn't really her father, then goes on and rapes
When Francois finds that out, he beats up the father, but somehow
can't patch up his relationship with Marie no more, even though she's more
than willing to - which is when Serge pitches in, and now Francois knows
he has really fucked up.
The next few weeks, Francois locks himself in
in his room, then he decides to take positive action for a change, and he
makes friends with highly pregnant Yvonne, with whom he has always had a
troubled relationship, and who needs a friend because Serge seems to be
hiding from her.
Finally, one winter night, she is about to give birth,
and she calls Francois for help, who gets her a doctor and gets her Serge
... but while the boy is born and Serge is once again filled with
unexpected hope, Francois dies.
By and large, Le Beau Serge
is celebrated as the film that marked the birth of Nouvelle Vague - but I
beg to differ, as the movie simply doesn't have very much to do with later
Nouvelle Vague masterpieces inasmuch as it lacks the experimental and
often inventive approach of those films. And while it is most certainly a
movie that breaks with the tradition of French cinema of its time, and
treats risquée topics (closet homosexuality, underage sex, rape), it has
much more in common with Italian neorealismo (which had peaked a
few years back) than things to come - and thus I would label Le Beau
Serge at best a transitional film rather than a movie that started a
That all of course says nothing about the quality of the film,
about which I have3 to admit I am of two minds: On one hand, the film is
cleverly written, beautifully filmed, and pretty good in portraying rural
society, on the other it perhaps overdoes it a bit with its risquée
topics, that seem to have been thrown in to poloarize and attract the
pseudo-intellectual arthouse crowd, plus the film takes itself too
seriously (no traces of Claude Chabrol's later self-irony here) and does
feature several lengths it could have done without.
In all, it's an ok
drama, but at least in my view neither a milestone and turningpoint, nor a
masterpiece or even Chabrol's best film.