American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Claude Chabrol's "Les Biches" depends almost entirely on style, and as style it succeeds. He is not so much interested in his story as in how to tell it. He favors muted colors, mostly pastels, and many of his scenes are shot in the light of late afternoon.
His characters fit these colors and moods; they seem in a trance sometimes, moving slowly, speaking absently. And his camera movement is meticulously planned. We notice scenes where the camera and the actors move together in a sort of minuet. Three or four shots, using steps we don't see or mirrors we don't expect, have the grace of dance.
Chabrol is often considered the father of the French New Wave. He is known over here for "Les Cousins" (1959), "Les Bonnes Femmes" (1960) and last year's "The Champagne Murders." Unlike his colleagues in the New Wave (Godard, Truffaut, Resnais) he has steered away from politics and into a very smooth, almost ethereal directing style. "Les Biches," a success at the 1968 New York Film Festival, ranks with his best work.
Usually we have to wait a year or two in Chicago to see the best new foreign films. But "Les Biches" opened here at the same time as its national release, and it's not hard to figure why. It's being promoted along rather hard lines as one of those lesbian sex flicks. The Loop Theater, with remarkable bad taste, advertises on the marquee: "Boldest Fem Film of '69." And the people ahead of me in line thought the title was "Les Bitches."