The discordant opening music of Le Boucher accompanies a series of curious limestone cave formations, and serves as a harbinger for the tragic events which are to unfold in this idyllic French countryside. Helene (Stephane Audran) is a beautiful, sophisticated school headmistress who moved to the region after a failed relationship. Popaul (Jean Yanne) has recently returned to his hometown after serving 15 years in the French army to assume responsibilities for his late father’s butcher shop. During the wedding of Helene’s colleague, Leon Hamel (Mario Beccara), Helene and Popaul form an immediate bond, fueled in part by alcohol, but also by mutual loneliness. Most of their free time is spent together: having dinner, going to the movies, hunting for mushrooms. They are both emotionally scarred: Helene, abandoned by her former lover, and Popaul, abused by his cruel father and a witness to the atrocities of war. As Popaul struggles to bury his troubled past, Helene also suppresses her pain by becoming emotionally withdrawn, unwilling to invest in a romantic relationship. Meanwhile, two savage murders are committed: the first, at the neighboring town of St. Albert; the second, by a cave at the outskirts of town. As the specter of death hovers ever closer to their quaint small town, can Helene and Popaul break free from their subconscious confines and find love and companionship in each other? Or will the killer surface within the community, threatening to destroy the fragile relationship between these two fractured souls?
Claude Chabrol crafts a taut and poignant tale of emotional damage in Le Boucher. Symbolically, the relational distance between Helene and Popaul is suggested through windows (as in Kieslowski’s Red): Helene looks out from her studio above the school after their first encounter, Popaul looks into Helene’s classroom, delivering a fresh cut of veal from the butcher shop, Popaul peers through the window of an unlit room in search of Helene. Furthermore, Popaul’s preference for a lowered, student’s chair in the studio also reflects Helene’s unattainability for him, as he shyly looks up to see her face, trying to find connection in her polite countenance. Le Boucher is a subtly haunting portrait of people who are incapable of exorcising their own private demons – inflicting emotional violence behind a facade of civility – and, in the process, destroy themselves.
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