Saturday, August 24, 2019

Docteur Popaul (Claude Chabrol, 1972)

Claude Chabrol’s oeuvre teems with, what’s the right word…diversions, relaxations? At their most palatable, they evidence, if nothing else, a form of love for the game, a jovial conviction that it’s more fun to be behind the camera than not, whatever the quality of might be in front of it. Docteur Popaul is one of the less palatable efforts, in that the narrative and thematic territory it occupies isn’t so far removed from that of Chabrol’s greatest works, but the sour carelessness of the execution only causes you to wonder if Chabrol was ever fully invested in anything (it’s one of those movies for which the plethora of English-language titles – Scoundrel in White, High Heels, Play Now Pay Later – seems to speak to its lack of much identity or integrity). Jean-Paul Belmondo plays the doctor – he calculatingly marries a mousy heiress (Mia Farrow, bizarrely lending herself to a mostly demeaning role) while eventually falling into a nightly habit of slipping her a sleeping pill so he can spend the night with her much sexier sister (Laura Antonelli): when the arrangement threatens to run out of steam, he switches the sister’s birth control pills so that she’ll get pregnant (and thus more likely rooted in place). It’s obvious then that female agency doesn’t count for much here in the narrative scheme of things – even when the tables are predictably turned in the closing stretches, it still turns mainly on Farrow throwing in her fortunes with the most obvious alternative man, and even this is ultimately supplanted by a blithe final assertion that it was all just in the family. The film initially affects a jovially exaggerated tone, playing up Popaul’s leering self-confidence for the sake of more thoroughly puncturing it later on, and it does have the occasional darkly comedic flourish, but if one didn’t know otherwise, it would surely be taken as the work of a forgettable journeyman.

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