Nada (1974) was the first Claude Chabrol film I saw, and it remains a favourite; quite a plaudit given that I must have seen over 30 of them. In terms of Chabrol’s work as a whole however, Nada is quite odd; there is no mysterious riddle of a murder and there is no provincial setting; instead there is kidnapping and there is an urban setting countered with a completely rural setting.
Lou Castel, at around the same period of Beware of a Holy Whore, plays a long haired drunken criminal anarchist in Nada, a person as unlikeable as you could find in the 1970s – a figure echoed in several period films I could think of – in fact Castel reminds me wholly here of Andrew Robinson as ‘Scorpio’, the killer in Dirty Harry (1971).
What makes Nada so good is that it doesn’t conform to any of the patterns pertinent to the thriller cinema of its day. The most striking thing of all is Chabrol’s take on the revolutionary and terrorist movements of the 70s – a theme tackled by Fassbinder and others. What makes Nada different and maybe even shocking, is the police attitude portrayed. While it is a commonplace in such stories to embed the message ‘the state is as bad as the terrorists’, a much sterner theme is followed here; that of out and out war, with no special rules.
Thus, when the police chief (through very old fashioned detective work and a modicum of prisoner torture) finds the Nada group, the terrorists are simply executed. Such frankness has not been seen in any other films on the subject; not before and probably not since.
Chabrol combines this with an unusual sense of realism in short portraits and scenes which seem in a way quite mundane and normal, as only life can be. This is a different sort of realism from which is usually meant by the term; perhaps reality would be more appropriate a phrase, except the film is not real, and is plagued for example by something that afflicts most television and a lot of cinema; actors standing ridiculously close together to help frame or compose a certain shot. Claude Charbroil, j’accuse on that count anyway.
Nada, which incidentally has some very annoying credits - you can’t win them all – does have a hilarious turn by Lou Castel, who drinks his way through the show with great aplomb, being the character that demonstrates the fact that some guys are into terrorism simply for the criminality it offers, not because they want to change the world. Castel seems grumpy and looks like he’s putting on weight from scene to scene. His bad boy pouting is made thoroughly sinister by his character’s drunkenness, and everything he has learned from bad ass Europeans westerns and criminal films, pays off well here — right until his screaming end.