Along with Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut, Claude Chabrol was part of that astonishing trinity of critics-turned-filmmakers responsible for the birth of the New Wave of French Cinema at the beginning of the 60s. At the start, though LES COUSINS and LE BEAU SERGE were hailed as New Wave hits, he seemed the lesser artist of the three, but time has altered that initial ranking: Chabrol now stands as one of the world's last classicist directors. The turning tide was marked by LES BICHES (1968), his exquisitely composed Hitchcockian exercise in sexual transference and betrayal and the terrible fluidity of identity. The film featured Nice in winter and the glorious Stéphane Audran, Chabrol's then-wife and star for the next quarter-century or so. With a coolly observant eye, he would continue to voluptuate in the specifics of places and seasons (and cuisine), and to explore the ambiguities of sin, guilt and penance. (Chabrol had co-authored a book-length study of Hitchcock with Eric Rohmer; no wonder he demonstrated a sometimes stone-cold comprehension of the kinds of sad, murderous beasts that lie in the darkness behind the human brain.)

   During the 70s, Chabrol's "genteel-bourgeois-murder cycle"- LA FEMME INFIDELE, LE BOUCHER, LA RUPTURE, QUE LA BÊTE MEURE , JUSTE AVANT LA NUIT AND LES NOCES ROUGES - almost all starred Audran, with actors Michel Bouquet (to whom LES BICHES had been dedicated) and Jean Yanne coming to assume symbolic roles in the very fallen worlds dreamed by the director. Beginning in 1978, with Violette Nozière, Chabrol began to investigate the often-masklike visage of actress Isabelle Huppert, trying to plumb the buried truths of seemingly sociopathic characters who matter-of-factly-amorally?-murder, follow the lure of money, hate the bourgeois to death.

   You might say that Chabrol's films bloom during those fraught hours just before night falls on his flawed, all-too-human protagonists-often the encroaching darkness of death heralds epiphany and /or a species of ecstasy. And in stark contrast with much of contemporary filmmaking, Claude Chabrol's classical cinema marries form and content in a seamless, deeply satisfying union. Alfred Hitchcock would be proud of his spiritual son.