This disc is also available as part of The Claude Chabrol Collection alongside Les Biches, La Femme infidèle, Le Boucher, Juste avant la nuit, Les Noces rouges, Que La Bête Meure and Madame Bovary.
Nada was a departure for Claude Chabrol from the films which made his name, being, on the surface, a political thriller. In some respects, it’s similar to the work of Costa-Gavras but it lacks his strident ideological commitment and is consequently a rather more complex film. Chabrol’s frequently expressed distaste for the bourgeoisie darkens here and the world-view espoused in Nada is as bleak as anything in film noir.
The film divides neatly into two parts; ironic in itself given Chabrol’s refusal to adopt a simple model of morality. During the first half of the film, the Nada Gang, led by the extravagantly monikered Buenaventura Diaz (Testi), organises the kidnapping of the American ambassador at a brothel in Paris. Despite careful planning, the operation goes wrong and a policeman is shot. Once the ambassador is in the hands of Nada, the focus shifts onto the police investigation. The state, more interested in discrediting the leftist revolutionaries than saving the life of the ambassador, employs a variety of increasingly brutal methods in order to secure the advantage, culminating in a massacre that reveals the breathtaking cynicism of government and the terrible naivety of the would-be terrorists.
It’s interesting that Chabrol should be making this film given his history as a left-wing political sympathiser who was there at the barricades in May 1968. His sympathies undoubtedly show, to some extent, in the way in which the Nada Gang gradually becomes a hopelessly disorganised collection of lost souls while the state is portrayed as virtually Fascist in its determination to stamp out unorthodoxy. But there’s an inquiring, pessimistic tone to the film which suggests a measure of disillusionment on Chabrol’s part and during the brilliant monologue granted to Diaz towards the end, we seem to be hearing the voice of the director. Backed by TV footage from Paris in 1968, he describes leftist revolutionary terrorism and the reprisals of the state as “the two jaws of the same idiot trap” in which the state will always choose death over revolt in order to maintain the status quo. Diaz says, “It’s a trap for revolutionaries, and I fell into it.” I think we are hearing the voice of a mature radical who looks back on his beliefs and realises that however much he hates the bourgeoisie, he can never triumph because the game is always played on their terms. Given a choice between revolution and the destruction of everything, the state, dominated by the middle-class and the remnants of aristocracy, would rather see everything be destroyed than ever be brought down and reconstructed. It’s a brilliant insight into the history of the past two-hundred years and given the recent behaviour of several major Western democracies, it’s not hard to think that it’s being proved right.
The leftists are given a voice and a relatively sympathetic hearing. But the state is never allowed this and that’s the way in which we see where Chabrol’s heart lies. The government is represented as irredeemably corrupt and endemically cynical while the police are brutish morons, led by the peerlessly thuggish Michel Aumont as Inspector Goemond. There is a certain sense in which Goemond is seen to be the enforcer of the state whose very expendability is what makes him valuable but we never get his interior voice and if this had been added it might have made Nada a truly great film rather than a very good one.. I’m reminded somewhat of John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy in the way that the indulgence and understanding extended to one group of characters is denied to another group of stereotypes – if Schlesinger could have understood his secondary characters with the love he gave to Ratso and Joe Buck then that film might have been the masterpiece that some thought it was. When we watch Goemond at the end of the film, we feel nothing for him so his actions lack weight. It’s good fun to watch the machinations of government as they work out how to “smear everyone at once” and exciting to watch the police investigation get closer to the gang but its basically comic book stuff and it doesn’t entirely fit in with the rest of the film. Nada is often described as objective but I don’t buy that interpretation.
The scenes with the Nada group are not comic-book. They are rooted in complex emotions, particularly those of the excellent Maurice Garrel as the weary, self-doubting planner who doesn’t believe in revolution but can’t quite find his way out. His relationship with Mariangela Melato’s Veronique is touching because its so hesitant and, when its on the verge of being consummated, complicated by his impotence. Garrel has one of those wonderful faces which seem to be gifted to middle-aged French actors; visages where a thousand loves and a thousand betrayals have expressed themselves through slight indentations to the skin. He gives a beautifully moving performance and is the heart of the film. When one of the group gets drunk and shouts slogans like “History’s got no room for shit-eaters”, the rest sit in embarrassed silence, realising that his bravado is no longer something they consider appropriate. The paradox of a group who don’t fundamentally believe in anything anymore but are willing to die for what they don’t believe in is, I think, a classic example of Chabrol’s withering sense of irony. The same could be said of the blackly comic horror of the state killing ruthlessly in order to smear a group of (frankly incompetent) terrorists as killers.
This is a dark, cruel world and it fits in perfectly to the Chabrol universe. The impossibility of making simple moral judgements, the inability to act positively to improve society, the fact that fundamentally no-one cares – all of these are themes to which the director has constantly returned. It’s brilliantly directed with some scenes which are among Chabrol’s best. The siege of the house where Nada are holding the ambassador is a stunning set-piece with some crack editing from Jacques Gaillard who worked on several of Chabrol’s best films. All manner of stylistic devices are used to crank up the tension and it’s a master-class in the way it combines zooms, tracking shots and jump-cuts. Incidentally, the decision not to use foley effects for fistfights and gunshots is also interesting, not least because while being more realistic it actually acts as a distancing device.
The ending of the film is deeply affecting, not only on the level of the emotions we feel for the characters but in terms of what the film is saying about human beings. The incapacity of either side to change, to successfully compromise leads to mutual destruction in this film and Chabrol comes across as remarkably despairing. The film ends with a tracking shot which sums up the frightening abyss into which it peers. All the dangerous little games played by the middle-classes in Chabrol's other films are played out here on a national level by powerful men with real weapons and, in this respect, it forms a vital addition to his remarkable body of work. Underneath, however, if you listen hard enough there's a requiem mass playing for the certainties of 1968 - and this renders it one of Chabrol's most personal films.
Nada is released in the UK as part of Arrow’s Claude Chabrol collection. The film is presented in anamorphic 1.66:1 and is slightly window-boxed. It’s a rather disappointing transfer with a washed-out appearance, some print damage and a lack of fine detail. However, the grainy appearance adds a gritty edge to the film which I found rather appropriate. The French mono soundtrack is, however, completely satisfactory and the subtitles are generally clear, appearing in the lower part of the frame.
There are no extras. The film is divided into 12 chapters.