This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
Years ago, Clemence was an acrobat, lithe and beautiful and the heroine of the circus. Julien was a typesetter, young and sturdy and in love with her. She had a bad fall and broke her leg, and would limp for the rest of her life. So she left the circus and married Julien, and for a long time, their marriage was a perfect one. But, so slowly that perhaps the stages of the change were never marked, their love turned to a terrible hatred. And yet they remained so intimate they could almost read each other's minds.
That's the situation at the opening of Pierre Granier-Deferre's "Le Chat," an extraordinary French film about the ways people grow to depend on each other, and about how many varieties and disguises love comes in. The movie is one of the countless good films based on novels by Georges Simenon, and indeed Granier-Deferre wrote 15 episodes for a French TV series about Simenon's Inspector Maigret. But in his non-Maigret novels, Simenon was often dark, realistic, and a stylist sometimes compared to Camus.
Clemence in "Le Chat" is played by Simone Signoret, who has aged into a solid, attractive middle-aged woman with the presence of a force of nature. Julien is played by Jean Gabin, the French legend of the 1930s through the 1950s, who has announced his retirement on any number of occasions but will occasionally make a film if the role is right. This role is right.
Most of the film takes place within the bourgeois home the couple bought after their marriage - a home that once had a pleasant setting, we assume, but now is boxed in at the end of a street and surrounded by mass-produced urban sprawl. Inside, existence has settled down to warfare. They eat in the same kitchen, at separate tables. They sleep under the same roof, in separate beds. They pass the evening in the same living room, but their conversations consist of notes jotted down and thrown at each other.