|Talking shop: Isabelle Huppert in Story of Women.|
Class and crime were the two favorite themes of the late Claude Chabrol (1930-2010); in Chabrol’s best films (Les Bonnes Femmes, Le Boucher, Le Ceremonie) the two are intricately braided together to make chilly, ironic thrillers. I’ve discovered a new favorite Chabrol film (or at least a close second to Le Ceremonie, which it would be hard to trump) in Story of Women (1988), an Occupation-era drama set in a provincial French town where desperate housewife Marie Latour begins performing abortions for local women on the sly. (She later expands her services by renting out a spare room to a couple of town prostitutes and their clients.) The film is a nuanced, clear-eyed, and thoroughly gripping panorama of women under various degrees of duress; like, say, Lizzie Borden’s Working Girls (1986)—on the surface a very different movie—the Chabrol film is whip-smart about the choices faced by working-class women. And how women both help and exploit one another (in some cases simultaneously). And how even class privilege may not/does not protect women from the punitive damage of living under male systems of power. And how the oppression of women is all but written into the ideology of the modern justice system. And all manner of other ideas besides. That Story of Women stars the great Isabelle Huppert—who plays Marie with the blank insouciance that has become something of her trademark as an actor—makes it even easier to recommend.