Ludicrously underrated at the time of its first release, when it was accused of excessive cynicism and bad taste, Les Bonnes Femmes is in fact the finest of Chabrol’s early films and also one of the director’s personal favourites. Its story of the lives, loves and dreams of four Parisian shopgirls serves as a framework for presenting not only a sharply jaundiced view of ordinary Paris and ordinary Parisians, but also a bleak vision of the city as Hell. The unifying theme of the film is the discrepancy between dream and reality, the inability of the girls’ environment to provide a means of realising their ill-defined yearnings. Each of the young women has different aspirations, which include merely having a good time, seeking the safety of marriage, and pursuing romantic love. Chabrol has compassion for his characters but mocks their tawdry dreams. The film’s ironic structure, its sense of the macabre and the innocent in human foibles, makes for a genuinely disturbing experience.
Black and white.