Lies and Deceit – Five Films by Claude C - Lies and Deceit – Five Films by Claude Chabrol(Blu [Arrow Video - 2021]
From Arrow Video (both in the UK and US) Lies And Deceit is a Blu Ray box set, featuring five films by prolific and respected French director Claude Chabrol. The films here date from the 80s and 90s- with the focus going small-town murder mysteries, more spiky period drama, addiction drama, and a mix of mystery thriller/ romantic drama. Each disc features a new commentary track and a good selection of new & archive extras.
On disc one we have Cop Au Vin (aka Chicken with Vinegar) from 1985, this was the thirty-fifth feature film from Claude Chabrol. It's based on a 1982 novel by Dominique Roulet Une mort en trop (One Too Many Deaths), which Chabrol adapted for the screen. And what have here is a small-town murder mystery, which is edged with touches dark humour and sly cruelty- be it mental or physical.
The film is set in the then present-day Normandy- where a small town is rife with dirty deals, affairs, and manipulation. A spate of deaths start occurring- so in comes out of town inspector Jean Lavardin (Jean Poiret) to investigate, and he is a charming-yet-at points brutality forceful presence- who is willing to do what he has to, to solve his case- be it breaking and entry, roughing folk up, or even push close to death those in his sight.
In the town is a selection of shifty & slightly odd characters- we have timid and bullied young postman Louis (Lucas Belvaux)- who lives with his manipulative and wheelchair-bound mother Madame Cuno (Stéphane Audran)- when we first meet the pair together, they are steaming open letters of those they feel are after getting them out of their barricaded & rundown house. We have also brutish, bullying and moustache town Butcher Gérard Filiol (Jean-Claude Bouillaud), there’s slippery and shady businessman Hubert Lavoisier (Hubert Lavoisier), up to no good local doctor Philippe Morasseau(Jean Topart), constantly observing barman André(Albert Dray), and blond-haired postal assistant/temptress- who has young Louis.
The film has a fairly standard murder mystery structure/flow- through what makes it so rewarding & compelling, is the great selection of characters/suspects, the touches of dark humour, and the unpredictable behaviour of inspector Lavardin.
Moving onto the cast, it’s all good/ well placed. First off Poiret is wonderful as the pushy, at times brutal focused inspector- playing his role with real gleeful, at points sadistic charm. Belvaux is believed as the initially easily pushed around young postman Louis. With Audran been great as his emotionally manipulative, and needy mother.
The film slides in at the one hour & fifty-minute mark, and normally I’d say this would be a bit too long for a murder mystery- but the film never overstays its welcome and keeps you held with its plot twists and turns, great acting, and wonderful unpredictable behaviour of the inspector- and it’s no wonder the character went on to get a film all of his own.
Moving onto the extras on this disc we get a commentary from American film critic Ben Sachs. He starts off talking about this as being somewhat of a comeback film from Charbrol and mentions how the photo shot POV look of the credits has quite a De Palma look. He talks about how both Chabrol & De Palma were both influenced by Hitchcock- but in quite different ways, De Palma for the flashy/ provocative, and Chabrol for the more low key/ subtle. He discusses Chabrol's use of both subjective and objective camera work. He talks about the film's small-town setting, and how it’s often used in the director's work. He mentions that Chabrol was also a great cook, with gourmet food and wine often appearing in his films. Later on, he discusses the post office location/ and its characters, as well as other onscreen observations. In all, it’s an interesting track, though it’s a little sporadic.
Next, we get a twelve-minute on-screen interview with Ian Christie, who interviewed the director back in 1994- and this gives you a good impression of what the director was like, and Christie's feelings on Chabrol’s work. Next, we get said 1994 on stage BFI interview with the director- this runs one hour and fourteen minutes. We get an archive introduction by film scholar Joël Magny- this is in French language and runs a minute & a half. We have twenty-one minutes' worth of directors' commentary, again in French. There’s a 1985 episode of a Swiss Tv film show, with Chabrol being interviewed about Cop Au Vin. Lastly, there’s a trailer and image gallery.
Disc number two features 1986’s Inspector Lavardin ( aka Inspecteur Lavardin, L'inspecteur Lavardin ou la justice)- and what we have is a fairly straight, though involving enough murder mystery- with as its title suggest sees the return of the Inspector from Cop Au Vin.
The film is set in then present-day France, based in and around a small seaside set town. The film opens with rich, though seemingly stanchly moralistic mid-aged novelist Raoul Mons (Jacques Dacqmine) sitting down to lunch with his glamorous blond wife Hélène(Bernadette Lafont), his quiet and studious teenage stepdaughter Véronique(Hermine Clair), and Hélène's quirky and self-confessed gay middle age brother Claude(Jean-Claude Brialy). A knock comes on the front door, and it’s a group of town folk looking for the novelist to step in and stop a play that’s due to be shown in the town, which has a religious flatulence related title- he steps in, and it’s cancelled. Next thing the naked and dead body of Raoul is found by the sea, with the word pig scrawled in lipstick on his tubby back.
As the credits roll, we see local police dept Vigouroux(Pierre-François Dumeniaud) driving to the station to pick up Inspector Lavardin- once again played by Jean Poiret, who looks surprisingly quite a bit older here. The pair make their way to the Mons residency, and as the inspector goes into the house- he recognizers Hélène, and we find out they both had a heated, though cut off by her relationship when they were young. So as the film unfolds Lavardin, who is staying in the house investigates Raoul death, who turns out isn’t quite what he portrays.
The film runs at the one hour and forty-minute mark, and as mentioned early is much more of a straight murder mystery- though the whole thing remains compelling enough, with some decent reveals along the way. The quirky characters are slightly less present in this film- though we have one or two, for example, Hélène’s brother Claude paints glass eyeballs as a hobby, having young men visiting him late at night. Poiret plays Lavardin in a largely more reserved, formal detective manner- sure he still has his moments of unpredictability, and he uses the law his way- but largely the characters very toned back. On the whole Inspector Lavardin is an entertaining enough film, but it’s very much more of a straight 80’s murder mystery venture.
Extra wise on this disc we have a commentary track, which is from Ben Sachs again. He begins by talking about why he feels this is one of the director's most playful and relaxed films. Moving on he mentions the films stabs of the Catholic faith, talks about a few actors that appeared from the director's early new wave films. He mentions the fleeting connections to Cop Au Vin , and says that he feels the main theme in this film is family. He talks about why he likes the inspector character, and that director is a very tidy filmmaker with his shot set-ups. He points out that the bourgeois characters are likeable/ quirky here, unlike his early films where they are often portrayed in a bad light. Later on, he discusses the almost noir-like feel of some of the shot use, but it’s done in a more comfy/ charming manner. He comments on certain shots, etc- again another interesting track, though sadly it’s even more sporadic. Otherwise, we have There’s Why Chabrol?- a sixteen-minute appreciation of the director's work from film critic Sam Wigley- and this is good, giving a nice overview of the director's work. There’s another archive introduction by film scholar Joël Magny, which is once again in French- and runs a minute and a half. We get thirty-three minutes of selected directors' commentary scenes. And once again trailer and gallery.
On disc number three we have 1991’s tragic romantic costume-drama Madame Bovary, and this is a lengthy-if-compelling adaptation of Gustave Flaubert’s 1857’s novel, which over the years has had eleven other big-screen versions made.
Before continuing I’ll have to admit I’m not the biggest fan of the costume-drama genre, having watched a handful over the years, really enjoying the form only when it’s mixed with either darker or horror tropes. So, I was pleasantly surprised how much I was taken by Madame Bovary. The film story focuses on the life and loves of Emma Bovary (Isabelle Huppert), who when we first meet her is in her late teens/early twenties living with her farmer father. Things kick off with her father breaking his leg- in is called middle-aged country Dr Charles Bovary(Jean-François Balmer). Emma sees the Dr as her way out of her dull life of sewing and avoiding work on the farm. The pair marry, with her moving into the Doctor’s house in the village- he’s a well-respected, caring, if not terrible dynamic man. Emma tries to do her best as his wife, but there is no spark- and in time she comes to detest him. Things improve when he moves to a larger town/ practice, with her giving birth to a daughter. But soon she starts to become bored/ wanting more, going to a grand ball she decides that something must change in her life, and after this follows her involvement with a selection of men, some as friends others as more.
The Emma Bovary character is very self-centred, at times fairly obnoxious- though there is something oddly compelling about her internal push for what she sees as a better/ more exciting life- Huppert is well suited to the role of Emma, managing to portray a range of emotion and often devious intent. Balmer plays well the caring, trusting, and largely oblivious Doctor. Also worth a mention is Christophe Malavoy as the opportunist rich man who focuses on Emma, and along the way, we get a well-placed selection of character actors coming through the story.
The film runs at the two hours and twenty-two-minute mark, and largely moves along at a fairly brisk pace- at points, it did feel like things were skipped over somewhat, with sudden jumps in the story- but I guess better that than a long slog, so I think it’s this, the unlikeable-if-intriguing lead character, and the good acting all round makes the film surprisingly engaging, even from someone who doesn’t normally enjoy the genre.
On the extras front on this disc and we get a commentary track from film critic/ commentator Kat Ellinger- and as always this is another well researched and in-depth track full of interesting facts/ details and rewarding observations. She starts discussing how the film appeared in a time when period dramas were becoming rather popular, but apparently, Chabrol had been planning to make the film at least twenty years beforehand. She talks about how the original novel was one of the director's favourites, and he first read it at the age of thirteen. She details how Chabrol cutting-out/shorting certainly elements of the novel- like reducing the details/background of the Charles Bovary character, but enhancing the ballroom sequence. She talks about how said Ballroom sequence was used heavily in its trailer- which rather implied the film was in the mould of Merchant Ivory pictures, which it isn't. She mentions the largely bad critical response to the film, including Huppert playing of the lead role. Later on, she discusses the use of mirroring in the story's plot, and the two different types of seduction occurring with both the Charles and Emma character. She points out elements of absurd comedy/ irony in this film, and many of Chabrol’s films. She talks about the real historic person the Emma character might have been, and much, much more. Easily a track you could play several times.
Otherwise, we get Imagining Emma: Madame Bovary on screen- which is a ten-minute visual essay by film historian Pamela Hutchinson. Another archive intro from film scholar Joël Magny. Thirty-seven minutes’ worth of directors' commentary on selected scenes. And a trailer, an Image gallery.
On disc number four we have 1991’s Betty, which is best described as a character study/addiction drama. It focuses on the film's title Betty/ Elisabeth Etamble (Marie Trintignant) a late-twenties woman, who when we first meet her is drinking heavily in bars. She is well dressed, but her hair is bedraggled, and her eyes red/ set- we see her leaving the bar with a middle-aged well-dressed man who claims he’s a doctor. He drives Betty out of the city, towards a countryside bar/restaurant called The Hole- she drinks, even more, downing the spirit like water. It turns out the so-called doctor is a little unbalanced and starts trying to pull worms out of her hand with a spike. In jumps, Mario (Jean-François Garreaud) the charming, if slightly quirky owner of The Hole. We find out that the bar/ restaurant is a place for more troubled/ quirky drinkers, and Betty is soon joined by rich middle-aged redhead Laure (Stéphane Audran)- who befriends her, taking her back to the city hotel she stays at after Betty cuts her hand, after drinking herself near unconscious.
As the film unfolds, we flashback to Betty’s past, and see how she lost everything- including her rich husband and two children. Trintignant is spell-biding as Betty, really having the look of a hardened drinker, though as the film progresses more tender and lighter edges appear. Both Audran & Garreaud are good as the do-gooding duo trying to help Betty, though you wonder what their motives are. With a good supporting cast surrounding the key cast. On the whole, Betty is a well-acted and compelling character study, which slow but surely reveals it’s self- showing Betty as a well-rounded person, not just another bar fly
On the extras front, we have another commentary track from Kat Ellinger- and once again it’s another very in-depth, well researched, and interesting track. She starts off by saying how she finds this film, and the director's other later films fascinating examples of subversive female character studies. She talks about the film's subtle addiction-related imagery, and how the whole thing is very much an anti-romance/anti-sex film. She compares the film to the book it’s based on, and how they differ. Later on, she discusses how the act of sex rarely appears in his films, the reason for this, and the meaning of the one fleeting sex scene in the film. She mentions the white business suit Betty wears through most of the film, and what it's meaning/ subtexts might be. She talks about casting choices, and much more. Another track one could easily play again.
Otherwise, on the extras front, we have Betty, from Simenon to Chabrol- a brand new visual essay that runs around the sixteen-minute mark from French Cinema historian Ginette Vincendeau. There’s an around a fifteen-minute onscreen interview with Ros Schwartz, who was the English translator of the Georges Simenon novel on which the film is based.
And lastly, we get an archive into (2.57), directors commentary on a few scenes from the film(32.21). Trailer and image gallery.
Finally, on disc number five we have 1994’s Torment- it saw Chabrol once again focusing in on the then present-day France, this time in the countryside and a rural set hotel. What we have here is a mix of romantic drama and mystery-thriller, with the films focusing on a thirty-something couple who run the already mentioned hotel- he has started to suspect that she might be having an affair, but is she really, is it his jealousy or is something else going on here?
The film opens with a fairly common Chabrol trope, as within a short time we jump through several key points in the couple's life- they meet, court, get married, get pregnant/ give birth. With the timeline slowing when they seem settled running the hotel. The couple are Paul (François Cluzet) who when we first meet him is seemingly a charming, likeable and focused host, and his wife Nelly(Emmanuelle Béart) who is also charming, though maybe seems slightly less on the hotel business ball.
Fairly soon Its clear stress is starting to slow in Paul, as he’s having issues sleeping- Nelly suggests he tries taking some sleep pills, as they work for her. The next day they take their son to see their Doctor (André Wilms), as they're concerned that he may have a throat infection. In passing Paul mentions he has been taking sleeping pills, and the doctor warms these can be dangerous. As things progress, it seems Nelly is less and less present in and around the hotel, and is seemingly spending a lot of time with the guests- in particular Martineau (Marc Lavoine), a charming, though shifty man around their age. Paul starts getting concerned about the time the pair seems to be spending together and is fairly soon sure that an affair is going on.
The film's a mix of romantic drama and mystery-thriller, it's well-realized and cleverly presented picture. With the thriller side of things coming into play more and more as it moves on. The plot unfolds nicely keeping the viewer uncertain was really going on- is Nelly having an affair with Martineau, and possibly other guests?. Is Paul jealous making him see things? or
is there some else going on here?
Cluzet and Béart make for believable couple, and as things move along both get to show off a range of emtion and great acting skills. We get a nice selection of fairly quirky hotel guests- a older man who is constantly filming things, a couple in their twilight years keen at getting in on whenever they can, a tubby cigar sucking rich guy, and a few others. Along the way we get some subtle unbalancing touches/ sly trippy moments involving sun and bee buzzers, as later on memory doubt occurs in both of the lead characters.
In finishing Torment is a great final film on this boxset, been a very compelling and engaging venter- with great acting, rewarding plotting, and general wonderful filmmaking on display.
On the extra front on this disc, we have a commentary track from Australian film commentators Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Josh Nelson-and as always, these two give a well-researched and enjoyable track. They talk about where this film sits in Chabrol’s filmography, and the use of his two key influence Hitchcock & Fritz Lang. They talk in detail about the first attempt to the films script into a film by Henri-Georges Clouzot, back in the 60s. Later on, they discuss the films’ themes, and how these are played in certain scenes. The films end scene, and what it could mean, and more. Other wise on this disc we get just archive interviews, intro, and thirty-nine minutes of commentary on selected. Plus, trailer and image gallery.
I’m ashamed to say before this boxset I had only heard of Claude Chabrol work in passing, so it’s so great that Arrow has released this set featuring a wonderful selection of the director's later work. And as always, we get a great selection of new and archive extras, with the finished set coming presented with a fully illustrated 80-page booklet featuring new writing on the films by critics Martyn Conterio, Kat Ellinger, Philip Kemp, and Sam Wigley plus select archival material. So, another very Stellar boxset from the guys at Arrow Video.Roger Batty