Fans of the French new wave, rejoice: a long-lost artifact from one of the most radical eras of film history has been resurrected after forty-five years. Directed by Jean-Denis Bonan, A WOMAN KILLS follows a string of copycat murders that occur soon after a sex worker, Helen Picard, is executed for killing several women. The film offers a fresh look at classic new wave stylings, blending elements of film noir with techniques emblematic of new wave– fragmented editing, handheld shooting, a documentary feel, and even a discordant, jazzy score.
Starring Claude Merlin as executioner Louis and Solange Pradel as police detective Solange, the film attempts to explore the psychological motive behind the murders as the two work together to locate the culprit. An unnamed narrator solemnly recounts the personal histories of Solange and Louis, as well as the several victims, over montage footage of the characters walking, talking, undressing, and dying. There is no shortage of nude women in this film; it has the feel of a Hitchcockian thriller or even a slasher, given the attention paid to aestheticizing its violence.
However, audiences expecting feminist or transgressive undertones to the film–as I expected based on the title alone–may come away sorely disappointed; while A WOMAN KILLS includes open references to queer identity, none of these references are necessarily flattering or positive. Trans viewers in particular are advised to exercise caution, as the film deals heavily with the transphobic stereotype of violent and deceptive cross-dressers. But despite its sensitive subject matter, the film nevertheless is a fascinating piece of history for those interested in the new wave, with standout performances and masterful visual techniques. The climax, in particular, is a highlight, depicting a long cat-and-mouse action sequence that takes viewers across the rooftops and back alleys of 1960s Paris.
The Blu-ray release includes several bonus features, including audio commentary by critics Kat Ellinger and Virginie Selavy, a collection of short films from the same director, and a limited edition booklet that includes discussion points regarding tropes of gender identity within the film. For collectors and Criterion enthusiasts in particular, this is not a film to miss.
Restored and available in a limited edition Blu-ray (SRP $34.95), this little-seen French murder mystery is now available for purchase.
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