Les Biches (Chabrol, 1968)

Les Biches explores the dynamics of a female relationship interrupted by an outside force. Frédérique is the older patron, who brings “Why” into her home on a whim. “Why, who never reveals her real name, looks a lot like Frédérique and the similarities do not end there. She has the same dry wit, and demeanour as her patron, but slowly as the film progresses these fade away as madness takes root.

In her late teens or early twenties, “Why” had a clearly difficult upbringing. She never had money, and the first thing she asks from Frédérique is a bath. The sexual suggestion is not lost, though “Why” is a professed virgin and clearly very naive about relationships and human interaction. This is where, however unintentionally, she falls into the trap of the two older people she grows to love. The film begins by chronicling the budding love between Frédérique and “Why”, though there is nothing explicit, it’s clear their relationship is more than just amicable. They not only share the comfort of friendly affection, but the same bed. “Why”s transformation begins, as she misinterprets the actions of Frédérique as true love, when in the end it seems to be little more than an adventure of a bored socialite. It also, however, opens up a world of curiosities and privilege for the young girl, who delights in the attentions of the architect Paul Thomas. Understanding little of the dynamics of relationships, as well as other people, she toys with Frédérique by going away with Paul for a night.

The next day she confesses that she slept with him, though she doesn’t care much. This is far from the truth, and a pattern of using her emerges. Both Paul and Frédérique are startlingly ignorant of “Why”‘s emotional state, despite her being quite open with her past, and lack of romantic experience. They never seem to intentionally take advantage of this, but inevitably they are praying on her own desire for affection to get what they want. Both though, discard her when she is no longer needed, leaving her crippled, confused and eventually insane. More intelligent than the two bumbling “artists”,who also live in Frédérique’s home, she is allowed to stay as Paul and Frédérique fall in love, because she proves to be an obedient and friendly “child”. Both seem to forget, or ignore their own relationship with “Why”, because she is no longer relevant to their carnal desires.

Her own revenge is never truly justified, though the way they twist and manipulate her fragile state of mind is none the less troubling. It’s especially unnerving as they’re clearly ignorant to her humanity and emotions, unable to read beyond the surface of her actions, and words. Perhaps, it is in this way they are most self-centered. Time and time again, the difference between her and Frédérique is emphasized, their class, experience, age, beauty, etc. Though, the film also suggests how they are so close to being the same.

A rich and involving film, Les Biches is a great work by one of the French New Wave’s most oft forgotten filmmaker. It’s in many ways, a much pulpier and conventional version of Bergman’s Persona.

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