Home > Index > Thriller > Movie Review

Plot Details: This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

The Irresistible Force Meets the Immovable Object.

Le Boucher

Plot Overview

Opening credits cover a back­ground of primitive cave paintings giving way to the country­side in the environs of the village of Trémolat situated in the Périgord region of France. A bell chimes on a 15th century church. Some chefs exit a shop and rush with their wedding cake and trimmings to the grand festivities; a youth drops his pastries and hastily retrieves them. At the wedding feast the local butcher Paul “Popaul” Thomas (Jean Yanne) slices the meat (“Let me cut that”) and hands the first piece to Hélène Daville (Stéphane Audran), the head­mistress of the village school, who digs right in. These two strike up a conversation and continue seeing each other after the party is over.

Popaul is an ex-soldier (“I was fifteen years in the army.”) He's seen the butchery of war (“I've seen a corpse or two.”) In the normal course of a life, a young man goes from civilian life into the military, sees some fighting (or not), then returns to civilian life to get his head back together. In this case Popaul started off in his father's butcher shop, then endured the butchery or war, and got out to take over the butcher shop. He needs a woman to civilize him into a family life.

A schoolmarm we ordinarily think of as a dried up spinster, but Hélène is “young for a head­mistress.” She'd had “a big love affair over ten years ago. One day he had enough and he left. … It took me a long time to recover. It left me love­sick.” She keeps Popaul at arm's length now while he desires love, “to be with you always, to love you, to protect you, … on une ile désert,” so to speak. As the pressure builds between the two of them, her village world starts unraveling (“Un crime”) at the edges (“Think of the poor girl!”)


To understand this movie, one must follow a cascading series of symbols. In the commentary included on the DVD, Terry Curtis Fox says the twelve-thousand-year-old cave paintings are “utterly essential to this movie.” On a field trip, Hélène explains the survival problem of the Cro-Magnon man: he had to be a brute. If he came back, “Maybe he would adapt and live among us. Maybe he would die.”

One of the adaptations to civilization is burial of the dead. In one funeral scene, every attender throws a hand­ful of dirt on the grave, except for Popaul. This designates him as the brute. The casket has a cross on it, and every­one passing crosses him­self, whence we see the civilizing influence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It demands, (Matt. 16:24) “If any man will come after me, let him deny him­self, and take up his cross, and follow me.” Popaul would have to deny his brutish nature and pick up his cross and follow the Lord. For him self-denial would involve taking some radical action along the lines of Matt. 18:7-8, to cut out the evil in his bowels, which propels him to commit atrocities (“I can't breathe until I've done it”) if he wants to take the UP elevator when he dies.

At the opening wedding we see civilized kissing (“The people here kiss each other.”) The bride's father kisses his new son-in-law. The groom kisses the bride; the best man kisses the bride; dancers kiss each other. Hélène offers Popaul a mere hand­shake upon parting and later will explain she is not avail­able to be kissed on account of having her heart broken over ten years ago.

Kissing a woman would be a civilizing influence on the brute. So would fire for Cro-Magnon man. Popaul uses matches, Helen's matches to light his cigarettes. Helen gives him a cigarette lighter for his birth­day. It's wrapped in paper of similar design to her outfit at the wedding. She wouldn't give him her­self in a kiss, but she gave him fire.

On a field trip a little girl gets rained on by red "rain" (“Il est rouge.”) This traumatizes the child­ren (“J'ai peur! J'ai peur!”) Finding the source of the "rain" Helen finds her consumer gift of fire returned to her. Symbolically rain stands for troubles in one's life. Popaul is not receiving her gift because she has been too thin-skinned to brush off her troubles.

Later Popaul paints her ceiling, and white paint drops fall on the rug. He cleans the rug with solvent and some rags he finds in a drawer next to the lighter gift that he then pockets. He will accept her gift of her­self if she is thicker-skinned, like that rug, as opposed to the delicate child's face under the red drops.

Production Values

Le Boucher” (1970) was written and directed by Claude Chabrol. It stars Stéphane Audran and Jean Yanne who gave excellent perfor­mances. It's a spare 93 min. long, and the director makes every scene count. It's discretely punctuated by church bells while Pierre Jansen's back­ground music changes instrument according to the tone of the plot. The camera work is a blend edited to perfection.

Review Conclusion w/ Consumer Recommendation

The heroine in “Le Boucher” approves of the quaint village life in which she immerses her­self but remains a bit of an out­sider. She has every confidence the bride and groom will continue in their marital hap­piness after the gay wedding opening scene though she her­self had been disap­pointed in love. If you are some­one who pines for the good old days of idyllic romance but find your­self trapped in a trying modern world, this movie would make a swell object lesson that one does well to over­come what­ever bad habits he's picked up and to develop a thick skin to brush off past hurts. If, how­ever, you're looking for a police procedural, forget it.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Well done action flick. Suitability for Children: Suitable for children 13+ years. Special effects: Average special effects. Video Occasion: None of the Above. Suspense: Keeps you on the edge of your seat. Overall product rating: Five stars out of five.