Nouveau Noir: Claude Chabrol's Ophélia, Shakespeare's
Hamlet, and the Nouvelle Vague
Douglas M. Lanier
Claude Chabrol’s little-discussed film Ophélia (1963) offers a fascinating instance of a Hamlet screen adaptation self-consciously considering its relationship to an earlier screen adaptation, Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet (1948), as well as to the mythic stature of Shakespeare’s play and the cinematic milieu from which Chabrol’s early works spring, the nouvelle vague. Ophélia, I argue, engages the relationship of Olivier’s Hamlet to film noir. If Hamlet is the original source of the noir aesthetic, Chabrol’s updated retelling explores the seductiveness of Olivier’s Hamlet which, despite its Oedipal approach, recasts its noir protagonist in more conventional heroic terms. Yvan Lesurf, the protagonist of Ophélia, models himself on Olivier’s conception of Hamlet, in the process giving his youthful disaffection and rebellion a heroic cast. But through its many counter-perspectives on Yvan’s campaign against his mother Claudia and uncle Adrien and the revelation at the film’s end, Chabrol offers a critique of the mythic allure of Olivier’s Hamlet and provides an adaptation of Shakespeare’s play which is less faithful but more genuinely noir. Chabrol also uses the Hamlet-like Yvan to offer wry commentary on the self-created mythos of the nouvelle vague auteur. Like the Young Turks of the Cahiers group, Yvan is a savage critic of traditional bourgeois sensibilities who is allied with the younger generation, and he uses film as his primary instrument for truth and justice. However, Chabrol focuses on the gap between the self-generated myth of the heroic nouvelle vague filmmaker, and the realities of Yvan’s cinematic crusade and what it actually produces. In the end, Chabrol suggests, the tension between the nouvelle vague and the tradition de qualité is far more Oedipal than ethical. Indeed, the film’s final revelation suggests that the nouvelle vague’s hostility to the older cinematic generation masks an unacknowledged existential kinship.
This article was first published in Shakespeare on Screen: Hamlet. Ed. Sarah Hatchuel & Nathalie Vienne-Guerrin. Publications des Universités de Rouen et du Havre, 2011. 235-55 <http://purh.univ-rouen.fr/node/176>. It is reproduced here as a clickable PDF document with kind permission from the PURH.
How to Cite
Lanier, Douglas M. "Nouveau Noir: Claude Chabrol's Ophélia, Shakespeare's Hamlet, and the Nouvelle Vague." In Shakespeare on Screen in Francophonia (2010-). Ed. Nathalie Vienne-Guerrin and Patricia Dorval. Montpellier (France), University Montpellier III, Institut de Recherche sur la Renaissance, l’Âge Classique et les Lumières (IRCL): 2012. URL: http://shakscreen.org/analysis/lanier_2012/. Originally published in Shakespeare on Screen: Hamlet. Ed. Sarah Hatchuel & Nathalie Vienne-Guerrin. Publications des Universités de Rouen et du Havre, 2011. 235-55.
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