Chabrol Day Three: Nada
Nada, or The Nada Gang, is based on a novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette (1942-1995), a one-time political activist, TV screenwriter and literary critic. He was an active member of the Serie Noire movement, imbuing his hardboiled fiction with leftwing undertones. Chabrol’s ongoing preoccupation with caste warfare complimented the plight of the terrorists in Manchette’s story, and now in the aftermath of 9-11, Nada may appear more controversial today than when it was first released.
It traces the pecking order of the upper class, old money manipulating the nouveau riche. Driven by control issues, their vanity jeopardized by social upheaval (plebeian terrorists are holding an American diplomat hostage), each rank of wealth passes responsibility down to the next, until a life-or-death situation lands in the hands of a wholly corrupt, boorish detective. All of these characters are illustrated as earthy slobs, but Chabrol isn’t terribly charitable to the terrorists, either: they’re a hodgepodge of alcoholics, idealists, poseurs and impotent romantics.
Their name, Nada (‘nothing’), was an obvious metaphor signaling Manchette’s disillusionment over the failure of the left to unite against rightwing oppression. One character in particular, Treuffais (Michel Duchaussoy), is a frazzled intellectual nearing breakdown. “Leftist terrorism and state terrorism,” he claims in his manifesto, “are the twin jaws of the same trap.” Cineastes have credited Chabrol for using him to poke fun at Francois Truffaut and Alain Resnais in the character and the name of ‘Treuffais,’ but it’s Manchette’s invention, just as the rest of the picture is generally faithful to the book.
Nada makes its way through garish mansions and ornate offices to fleabag hotel rooms and a ramshackle farmhouse — locations which serve as nondescript digs for transients, whether they’re social outcasts or elected officials. The amateurish and clumsy action scenes, as they are, venture toward parody. It’s been said that you can gauge Chabrol’s interest in his material through the cuisine that’s shown onscreen, but here the director’s obligatory food scene is reduced to the mention of a steak dinner and a quick glimpse of a cop gobbling up a sandwich. Most of this bunch chugs down alcohol, often straight from the bottle.
A subversive work concocted in a fever, a story we’re told that’s “pure fiction and therefore not unimaginable,” Chabrol has assembled what can only be called an idiosyncratic cast, from Lou Castel (from Marco Bellocchio’s Fists in His Pocket), to the undervalued Euro heartthrob Fabio Testi, and Mariangela Melato (fresh from Lina Wertmuller’s Love and Anarchy). With her uncharacteristically short blonde hair and piercing almond eyes, Melato appears eerily reminiscent of Chabrolian muse Stéphane Audran.
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