The film world is not one that features lots of strong women characters, unless their strength is heavily overlaid with softness, and unless they are in distress. Two females here: the first is Catherine from Claude Chabrol’s Masques; the second, of course, is Bree from Klute – both are victimized by predatory males and need saving by a handsome young man. At least they show a lot of spunk in the process!
These two go together well in their sort-of minimalist approach to the thriller, and the creation of a stifling atmosphere of “paranoia.” In Masques, we find a young man staying at a plush country estate with a fabulously popular host from a French TV game show – a gong show for old people, without the gong. The young fellow is writing his biography, so he says, but he is obviously searching for clues about a missing woman. The host’s young female ward, Catherine, is a wilted flower of a young woman, under continual medication, sensitive to the sunlight, tall, slim, and pretty in that emaciated pale way that some French women bring off on-screen. We learn that the older man is a monster behind his mask, willing to kill his mother for a good picture by Monet, and probably killing with poison the young woman whom he is also fleecing of her inherited wealth. The cat and mouse game between the young and the old man ends with the priest of TV good feeling de-frocked on-screen, and the two young people happily betrothed.
This film is very clever and witty. Small bits of dialog are so revealing. The host is horribly allergic to feathers – they will be his death! When his thug-chauffeur is carrying the drugged body of the young girl to her nasty end, he comments, “Oh, she’s light as a feather.” Little touches like that abound in this film, and all the characters are wonderful, but especially Phillipe Noiret, as the devil with a beaming face.
Chabrol visits again the theme he treated in Ten Days of Wonder: the evil, controlling God-the-Father, but with a lighter touch. The only problem I have with the film is that Catherine’s impetuous infatuation with the young houseguest – she brings him some hangers and then embraces him passionately and without preamble! – seemed very odd to me. Was she spending her time there waiting for a new guest to fall in love with..?
The woman who needs saving in Alan Pakula’s Klute, is not a pretty young thing – she’s a hard-as-nails independent prostitute. The man stalking her is unseen by her, ever watchful, powerful, rich, and psychotic. Anyone who has watched a lot of movies won’t be surprised by anything that happens in this film – do we need to be surprised to feel suspense? – all the tension comes from the characters. We know that Klute will save Bree, but will they stay together? Will Klute ever open up and … smile? Will Bree ever allow herself to not be in control of her life and feelings? That’s the real suspense story.
The film is eerie and sinister. In this age of cell phones, pocket digital equipment and cameras, the tiny reel-to-reel tape recorder at the center of the psychotic vortex is a devilishly scary prop. The dispatching of the villain, wonderfully played by Charles Cioffi, is simple, clean, and abstract, in keeping with the look and feel of the movie. A real pleasure, this one.