Out of the infamous group of filmmakers that made up the French New Wave, Claude Chabrol is perhaps one of the lesser-known in the mainstream, at least compared to Truffaut, Godard et al. However, Chabrol is known as the most prolific, with a career that began in the late 1950s and ended with his death at the end of the ’00s. Arrow Video have put together a box set called Lies and Deceit that collates some of his films from the ’80s and ’90s that have themes of deception and infidelity.
The first in the set, 1985’s Cop Au Vin, introduces the character of Inspector Lavardin, played by the charismatic Jean Poiret, who is brought to a small French town after the suspicious death of a butcher. After investigating further, he finds out the butcher was part of a trifecta of men trying to get the local postman and his disabled mother to move from their house so they can buy up the land. It’s an entertaining crime thriller with a welcome dash of black comedy and a good dose of sleaze, a nice commentary on the secrets and lies that tend to pop up in close-knit communities.
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Following this is the sequel, 1986’s Inspector Lavardin. This time, Lavardin visits an old haunt where he finds an ex-lover who has become twice widowed in succession, which leads him to navigate a world with a flamboyant uncle, a sleazy nightclub owner, and a young girl with a father who may or may not exist. Once again Poiret plays the title role, bringing his unique laconic style while he goes through the wonderful set of twists and turns Chabrol has created for him. It’s quite a gentle film really, a film about how relationships change over the years, even if some of the references to homosexuality are definitely of an era. But it’s a lot of fun, especially with Lavardin’s chummy relationship with uniform cop Vigoroux (Pierre-François Dumeniaud) who he decides should be called Watson.
1991’s Madame Bovary is Chabrol’s adaptation of Gustave Flaubert’s 1857 novel of the same name, about a young woman who discovers her romantic dream of marriage to a doctor is not all it’s cracked up to be. The radiant Isabelle Huppert inhabits the title role perfectly, with an interestingly sympathetic performance enhanced by Jean-François Balmer’s exceedingly damp squib of husband. The film has great wit; an example is when Bovary’s maid, upon seeing the Madame upset, tells her of a previous employer who was depressed, only for the fog to lift when she was married. However, Bovary replies that it only descended after she was wed. Chabrol’s film is compelling and intriguing, and incredibly sexy, dominated of course by Huppert’s dynamite performance.
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Ooh, Betty. Not Frank Spencer’s beloved in this case but Betty, Chabrol’s 1992 adult drama starring the divine, and sadly no longer with us, Marie Trintignant in the title role. After a near-miss with a junkie doctor, Betty finds herself on her own in a restaurant called The Hole, where she meets the sympathetic Laure (Stéphane Audran) and her husband Mario (Jean-François Garreaud), owner of The Hole. Betty attaches herself to Laure and from there we find out why she was separated from her husband and children, and that her pattern for self-destruction is all too eager to repeat itself.
Betty, adapted from the 1961 novel by Georges Simenon, creator of Maigret, is a straight tragedy with few of the comic nuances in any of the previous films, although it does pointedly criticise the upper classes in the form of Betty’s husband and family. However, this is appropriate; it’s an uncomfortable watch in places, which is a good thing, and it doesn’t seek to find easy answers for Betty’s behaviour, nor does it look to excuse or excoriate her. Central to the film is Trintignant’s absorbing performance, but take note of the subtle but exquisite cinematography by Bernard Zitzermann.
The final film in the set is L’Enfer, or to give it its translated title, Hell – Arrow’s disc calls it Torment. Based on Henri-Georges Clouzot’s unfinished 1964 film Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno, 1994’s L’Enfer is another film that looks at relationships and infidelity, this time from the point of view of hotel owner Paul (François Cluzet) who is obsessed with the idea that his wife Nelly (Emmanuelle Béart) is having an affair. While it initially is seen as a silly thing, Paul’s paranoia grows and grows, with him having a very public breakdown after imagining a film shown in the hotel is about Nelly and a local man having sex. It’s a riveting watch, with Cluzet and Béart bringing life and heart (break) to the tale, which ramps up and up as Paul gets more and more jealous and subsequently paranoid in a seemingly never-ending cycle.
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As this is the first time I’ve seen these films, I cannot comment on their accuracy to the original presentations; however, Arrow’s transfers are exceptional, with Madame Bovary, Betty, and L’Enfer being 4K restorations. Audio work is top-notch as well, with original French language mixes being used – all are mono apart from L’Enfer. And then there are a ton of extras that help bring valuable context to the films and Chabrol as a director, with commentaries, interviews, and visual essays up to the usual quality Arrow are known for delivering.
Arrow Video has put together a fine selection of films, from the gentle detective stories of Inspecteur Lavardin to the tragic paranoia of L’Enfer, all with high-quality audio and visual and a fascinating range of extras that make this a much-recommended purchase.
Lies and Deceit: Five Films by Claude Chabrol is out now on Limited Edition Blu-ray from Arrow Video.