“Les Bonnes Femmes,” one of Claude Chabrol’s earliest and best films, screens today through Wednesday at the Nuart with a new 35-millimeter print. Made in 1960 but unreleased in Los Angeles until 1976 and seen rarely, if ever, since then, “Les Bonnes Femmes” (Good Time Girls) today seems feminist in spirit, as Chabrol, in his third feature, explores the drab existences of four Paris shop girls.
Jane (Bernadette Lafont), Rita (Lucile Saint-Simon), Jacqueline (Clothilde Joano) and Ginette (Stephane Audran) are all clerks at a light fixture and electrical appliance store owned by a flamboyant old tyrant (Pierre Bertin). Audran would soon marry Chabrol and star in some of his most important films.
Their Paris, introduced so ironically by a shot of the Arc de Triomphe, is gray and unromantic. It is a world of cheap nightclubs and cafes filled with stale music and loud patrons. Uninhibited and rather coarse, Jane seeks only a man. So does Ginette, but she tries to escape the dull routine of her daily life by singing at night in a music hall. (She is terrified that the other girls will find her out and mock her inept attempt to play the sexy, glamorous chanteuse.)
A pretty, petite blond, Rita has landed a priggish fiance (Claude Berri, the future director) and is afraid his awful bourgeois parents--whom he sees as the epitome of culture--won’t accept her. Jacqueline, the loveliest, youngest and most vulnerable of the girls, indulges in romantic fantasies about a husky motorcyclist (Mario David) who keeps following her.
Despite its overall excellence, “Les Bonnes Femmes,” written by early Chabrol collaborator Paul Gegauff, has some awkwardly staged moments--the scenes of the girls at work seem particularly artificial. Although there’s a murder in the film, Chabrol shoves aside the mechanics of suspense almost entirely to engage us in a sensitive study of character. As a result, “Les Bonnes Femmes” remains one of his most individual--and most satisfying--works.
* Unrated. Times guidelines: language, adult themes and situations.
‘Les Bonnes Femmes’
Bernadette Lafont: Jane
Lucile Saint-Simon: Rita
Clothilde Joano: Jacqueline
Stephane Audran: Ginette
A Janus release of a Franco-Italian co-production of Paris Film-Panitalia (Rome). Director Claude Chabrol. Producers Robert and Raymond Hakim. Screenplay by Paul Gegauff. Cinematographer Henri Decae. Editor Jacques Gaillard. Music Paul Misraki. Art director Jacques Mely. In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes.
Exclusively at the Nuart, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 478-6379.