If you were to look at the works of William Shakespeare through the lens of Alfred Hitchcock, I imagine it would look a little something like Claude Chabrol’s Ophelia. One of the figures to emerge from the French New Wave, Chabrol, like many of his peers, wrote about the cinema and the works of Hitchcock and that influence is present in Ophelia as a tormented young man believes his mother and uncle murdered his father so they could be together. Now this French drama is available on Blu-ray from the good people at Olive Films in another spectacular transfer that revives Chabrol’s drama in its vibrant black and white beauty.
The film opens at a funeral. The deceased’s wife Claudia (Alida Valli) weeps over her husband’s grave and as the casket is committed to the earth, his son Ivan (André Jocelyn) yells out, “Father!” Just a short time later Claudia has married Adrien (Claude Cerval), her husband’s brother, prompting much suspicion from the still grieving Ivan. The young man becomes rude and withdrawn, only finding comfort in his courtship of Lucie (Juliette Mayniel). Ivan becomes more and more withdrawn shortly after catching a screening of Laurence Oliver’s Hamlet, believing the events of Shakespeare’s classic work parallels the events of his own life. He then sets forth to make his own movie that presents the events as he’s imagined them. However, there is a deep family secret that Ivan will discover at the most inopportune time, one that will shake him to his core.
Chabrol takes us deep into the tormented psyche of Ivan and the performance by André Jocelyn provides an unsettling look at this disturbed, grieving young man. He wanders through the wooded areas around his home and the distance between Chabrol’s camera and its subject gives an almost dream-like feel to the Ivan’s despair. Slowly the socially awkward and often rude Ivan transforms from a misunderstood outcast into something much darker, and he begins to scheme and act out towards his own family.
Ophelia may not be one of the greatest movies to emerge from the French New Wave, but it’s a fascinating film from start to finish as Chabrol blends styles as the film builds towards its stunning climax. It’s always nice to see later works starring Alida Valli when she’s finally freed from the overbearing nature of producer David O. Selznick, who saw Valli as the next Ingrid Bergman and meticulously oversaw all of her projects, often shooting her in a softer light than her costars. As they’ve done recently with The World’s Most Beautiful Swindlers and their entire catalogue, Olive Films have once again preserved a forgotten classic with care and a fantastic looking print.