The Cry of the Owl
1987, NR, 102 min. Directed by Claude Chabrol. Starring Christopher Malavoy, Mathilda May, Jacques Penot, Jean-Pierre Kalfon.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 3, 1992
Maybe it's me, but this alleged homage to the work of Alfred Hitchcock by Claude Chabrol acts as a textbook case of what's wrong with modern French cinema. Although Chabrol and co-writer Odile Barski have wisely taken as their source material a novel by Patricia Highsmith (who also wrote the novel upon which Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train was based), the movie itself never seems to work up the steam needed to engage the audience; it just sits there, looking dreary and all too nouvelle Francaise to elicit much of anything other than stifled yawns and the occasional raised eyebrow. Malavoy is Robert Forestier, a divorcé who gets his kicks by spying on his neighbor Juliette Voland (Mathilda May, perhaps best known in America as the soul-sucking space bimbo in Tobe Hooper's Lifeforce). When the two finally meet, they become friends, and Juliette eventually falls in love with the voyeur, much to the dismay of her husband-to-be, Patrick (Penot). When the jealous Patrick vanishes one night and Robert shows up for a dinner date with blood on his face, the police begin to suspect Juliette's new love of murder most foul. Robert's vicious ex-wife, Veronique, is also in the mix here, conniving to destroy his new life, but the film eventually becomes bogged down in its own exposition. Why she is so interested in humiliating her “ex” is never explained to anyone's satisfaction, and that only muddies the waters more. Chabrol has created a terribly static film, and although it's brimming with excellent photography and brilliantly lit, menacing mood pieces, the whole thing comes off as some sort of exercise in mediocrity. It's as though Chabrol became disenchanted with his work and said “screw it” halfway through the picture. You will too, I suspect.