Vitriol, a radical means to wash away the affront

Vitriol, the old name for sulfuric acid, was used mainly in industry, to bleach textiles or strip metals. Its corrosive nature encouraged malicious spirits to use it differently, in small doses like a poison (“Vitriol in the soup!”) or on a large scale to retract a bulky corpse. But the reasons for its success were still different. From the 1870s and until the beginning of the XXe century vitriol also says “Liquid dagger”, became the weapon of choice for crimes of jealousy or amorous spite. This well-known practice is the subject of Karine Salomé’s book, which, thanks to a large examination of the judicial archives, usefully renews its history.

Thrown in the face of a hated person, vitriol caused terrible burns and indelible marks. He blinded, distorted the features, closed the nostrils, welded the eyelids. The retraction of the scars that followed froze the corrupted face in a hideous and often monstrous grin. And that was what it was all about. Mark, disfigure forever. “I wanted to take away her beauty”, said a vitrioleuse about her rival. To reveal in the eyes of all the hidden monstrosity, the unworthiness, the moral infirmity.

The vitriol epidemic which raged in France at the end of the XIXe century (from 15 to 20 trials per year) made it especially a crime of “Female revenge”. Over 80% of the perpetrators were in fact women – young girls seduced, abandoned mistresses, cheated wives – generally from the lower classes, while the victims were almost all men. Such practices should come as no surprise at a time when feminist consciousness was advancing but male impunity remained the rule. We hardly started talking about “Deceitful seduction” and paternity research, which was only effective in 1912. This is undoubtedly why, in spite of the outcry from jurists and moralists, the trials of vitriolous women frequently ended in an acquittal (more than 40 % in the Seine department).

The popularity of vitriol ebbed in this country from 1910, when elsewhere figurative expressions flourished: there was talk of style or portrait in vitriol. When the practice has resurfaced in recent years, it has come at the cost of a radical reversal of intent and gender. In India, Bangladesh, Cambodia, where there are more than 1,500 cases per year, vitriolage has become essentially male, carried out against women aspiring to independence. Like what the paths of freedom are rarely linear.


Dominique Kalifa

Karine Salomé Vitriol. The assaults with the help of the XIXe century to the present day Champ Vallon, 286 pp., € 21.

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“The scandal”, obscure object of delirium

“Ithere is always something to see, provided you know how to look “, throws Paul Wagner (Maurice Ronet), during a bourgeois reception, to a friend who was annoyed by his rascal escapade escapades. Occurring in the first third of Scandal (1967), a false crime fiction and a true philosophical treatise on madness, almost anecdotal aside seems to give the viewer the keys to the film. It’s as much a sentence of a film buff as of an entomologist, a great architect of the world, having the gift of double vision or the sense of observation, to detect what is hidden behind appearances. But above all, she says that the world is not one, there is always another story, a logic that escapes logic, and that everything is a matter of look, interpretation, and therefore delirium. This is the occult subject that this thirteenth feature hides under its twisted whimsical air, whose codes Chabrol does not really respect – crimes but no investigation, no end of story, since nothing is unequivocal . It’s almost like it’s all in the head and sick brain of a character with shaky reason. The intrigue plays on this ambiguity: following a head trauma during an attack, where a prostitute was strangled before his eyes before he lost consciousness, Paul Wagner (Ronet, masterful as a childish and disturbed hero) is sometimes subject to absences. When other women around him are murdered, everything suggests that he may be the murderer, unless he is the victim of a plot, which we imagine to have been hatched by his cousin Christine (Yvonne Furneaux), wealthy champagne merchant, married to Christopher (Anthony Perkins), a former gigolo, who wishes to sell the domain of which Paul is still the owner of the name and exerts pressure and blackmail on him. But the presence of a blonde vamp (Stéphane Audran, beauty of elusive sphynx), haunting the place, leaves other mysteries hovering …

We are far from the original idea of ​​producer Raymond Eger – a murder in a nudist camp. To the “sans-pagne”, Chabrol and his accomplice from the start, Paul Gégauff, never stingy with Lacanian puns, will have preferred “champagne”. A rotten wine, like the big bourgeoisie that the filmmaker brushes with vitriol in their decadent evenings. Gégauff’s cynical pen infuses the film with an atmosphere of destructive madness that echoes the formal biases of the staging. From the credits in the colorful colors, Chabrol accredits the idea of ​​a mental film by multiplying the plans stretched to abstraction, the fluid circular movements, the slowness, the pattern of the spiral – wink at Vertigo by Hitchcock, who also evokes the role of the double brunette / blonde woman and the presence of Anthony Perkins.

Chabrol will often say that he was influenced by the thought of the philosopher Alfred Korzybski, general semantics and non-Aristotelian logic, namely the idea that a subject is always trapped in his representations. Starting from an undecidable point – is it Paul who is mad or the world around him, or both? -, the film constantly seems to adjust to the flickering perception of the hero, often under the influence of alcohol, and this distortion of reality is visually translated by formal audacity, games of mirrors and transparencies, dense decor of heterogeneous statues and objects, and up to the creeping gestures of Ronet. An astonishing final plan, taking height, will replace the scenario writer in the position of the demiurge entomologist, observing his characters, tangled bodies, to (d) fight like three worms in a box.


Nathalie Dray

The scandal of Claude Chabrol (1967), Blu-ray € 19.99 (BQHL).

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