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Three on a Match: Chabrol Breaks Commandments with “The Third Lover” | Blu-ray Review

A prominent member of the French New Wave, often credited as the French Hitchcock, director Claude Chabrol’s first few features were internationally renowned, seminal works of the movement. Taking home the top prize out of Locarno for Le Beau Serge (1958) and then Berlin with The Cousins (1959), his 1960 Les Bonnes Femmes is a cornerstone alongside the likes of Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (1959) and Godard’s Breathless (1960). But much of Chabrol’s output until the late 1960s, when Les Biches (1968) became a notorious hit, has languished in obscurity.

Revisiting his 1962 title The Third Lover (L’Oeil Du Malin) finds Chabrol navigating similar territories and themes he would eventually be renowned for—jealous lovers, infidelity and murder. A slight reworking of Othello, Chabrol credited a co-writer on the project, Martial Matthieu, which was a pseudonym he would use once more a year later on Ophelia, a perspective shift on Hamlet. Starring his then-wife Stephane Audran, who would remain a muse throughout his lengthy career, it’s a tale of coveted possessions and obsessive love, which he’d explore to greater effect in items such as The Unfaithful Wife (1969) and L’enfer (1994).

Albin Mercier (Jacques Charrier) is a bitter, struggling journalist who has taken a position in Germany despite being unable to speak the language. He meets a native Frenchwoman by chance, the vibrant Helene (Stephane Audran) and is instantly smitten. It doesn’t help she’s married to the successful writer Andreas Hartman (Walther Reyer). The couple take Albin under their wing, cavorting around town, with outings and picnics galore as Helene translates between them. But Albin is increasingly jealous of Andreas and wishes to have Helene, and potentially a greater career, all to himself. In setting out to seduce her by plotting to get Andreas out of town, his fantasy backfires.

This three-hander is basically a stranger-in-a-strange-land dynamic, with Audran as the apex between two men who either own or desire to own her. Austria’s Walther Reyer (Sissi: The Young Empress and Lang’s Tiger of Bengal) is much like a figure out of a Highsmith or a du Maurier narrative, the man who has it all and for it is led to ruination by a lurking antagonist. As his lead, Chabrol employs Jacques Charrier, a leading man of 1960s French cinema who was briefly married to Brigitte Bardot, and is perhaps one of Chabrol’s least effective leads, occupying a space which would be usurped in similar French output by the likes of Alain Delon.

As time would tell, Chabrol’s most celebrated titles featured female focal points, often Audran (beautiful as ever here) and eventually Isabelle Huppert. Relying heavily on the omniscient narration of Charrier’s failed journalist, the act of writing doesn’t tend to figure as heavily as talking about the act of writing, while Albin’s tenuous plan of shattering the couple’s marriage by seducing Helene, of course, takes a drastic twist.

For fans of Chabrol and 60s French genre cinema, The Third Lover is an enjoyable, sometimes devious minded exercise but ultimately proves to be a stepping stone for the director’s later masterworks. But the film features a delectable tagline: “Three’s a crowd—until she whispered, Three’s Allowed!”

Film Rating: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Rating: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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