December 20, 1971 [Le boucher/The Butcher]

Le boucher is a melancholy thriller, enervated by its attempts to find something more than loneliness. The pretty young headmistress and the affably cynical butcher come together at a wedding--the bride soon to be murdered, the butcher slowly emerging as the prime suspect.

But a phrase like “prime suspect” is inappropriate in this movie, as though there were clues and motives we can use to solve the case. Nothing comes of it--except the inevitable drop of telltale blood, the trickle, the end.

And the pace is leisurely, to say the least, but this too is important, an admission of guilt--or at least a kind of helpless gesture, the hands palms-up, showing us the emptiness. But then something happens: a shift toward sympathy that made me think of my sudden sadness at the climax of M, Peter Lorre so small and haunted that all I feared were the ghosts that surrounded him; he was only an old wreck of a house, ruined a long time before the movie began. The mad butcher is also filled with ghosts, his expertise at slicing meat too much of a temptation as he tries to set down his knife, confusing his loves--for life, for death--while the headmistress holds him like a mother who's arrived too late.


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