Lies & Deceit: Five Films by Claude Chabrol (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Jun 27, 2022
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Lies & Deceit: Five Films by Claude Chabrol (Blu-ray Review)

Director

Claude Chabrol

Release Date(s)

Various (Feburary 22, 2022)

Studio(s)

Arrow Video
  • Film/Program Grade: See Below
  • Video Grade: See Below
  • Audio Grade: See Below
  • Extras Grade: A-
  • Overall Grade: A-

Lies & Deceit: Five Films by Claude Chabrol (Blu-ray)

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Review

Of the five Cahiers du Cinema critics who inaugurated the French New Wave, Claude Chabrol was the most comfortable working in a commercial milieu. That didn’t always sit well with his former colleagues, but it didn’t make Chabrol’s films any less personal or idiosyncratic. It just meant that Chabrol followed his own muse, one that wasn’t limited by an arbitrary set of external principles. It was also a sign of the love/hate relationship that Chabrol had with his own upbringing; his films satirized and even openly attacked the bourgeois values with which he had been raised. It’s that self-loathing that makes his work so interesting. Since Chabrol made thrillers of various sorts all throughout his career, he’s sometimes called the French Alfred Hitchcock. Yet if there’s any truth to that comparison, Chabrol was a Hitchcock with the acidly satirical tongue of early Jean Renoir. He never let the members of his own class off the hook regardless what genre in which he was working.

Arrow Video has collected five of Chabrol’s late-period films into a boxed set titled Lies & Deceit. The collection includes Cop au vin, Inspector Lavardin, Madame Bovary, Betty, and Torment, as well as a genuinely impressive collection of extras that combines new and archival material. Each film is presented on its own disc in its own individual case, all of which are housed within a hard bound keep case. The set also includes an 80-page booklet featuring essays by Phillip Kemp, Martryn Conterio, Sam Wigley, and Kat Ellinger, as well as archival materials such as vintage production notes. The masters for each film were supplied by MK2, and while there are no details available regarding the elements that were used, Arrow notes that Madam Bovary, Betty, and Torment all feature “new 4K restorations,” so presumably Cop au Vin and Inspector Lavardin both utilize older 2K scans.

Cop au vin (aka Poulet au vinaigre) was Chabrol’s first film to feature the character of Inspector Lavardin, who was the creation of novelist Dominique Roulet. Despite the fact that Chabrol directed crime thrillers for much of his career, he rarely focused on the police, so it’s not surprising that Lavardin doesn’t even appear until forty minutes into the film. Yet when he does, he dominates the proceedings until the very end, in his typically abrasive fashion. Chabrol collaborated with Roulet on the screenplay for Cop au vin, which was an adaptation of Roulet’s novel Une mort en Trop. Louis Cono (Lucas Belvaux) is a postman who lives with his disabled mother (Stephane Audran) in a house that’s been targeted by local developers. His mother has refused all offers to sell, and when the pressure from the syndicate gets too severe, an accident leads to one of their deaths. The accident results in an investigation by the unscrupulous Inspector Lavardin (Jean Poiret), who uses his unconventional means to uncover the tangled web of deceit that connects everyone involved.

Cop au vin is essentially a sliding picture puzzle, with most of the pieces hiding in plain sight, but they don’t make any sense until they’ve been put into place by Lavardin. The narrative in the film seems disjointed at first, until that picture finally becomes clear. Even when it does, Lavardin’s solution isn’t quite what viewers may expect. It’s easy to see why Lavardin appealed to Chabrol, as the inspector is completely unfettered by any pretense toward bourgeois morality or ethics. Lavardin uses whatever means that he sees fit to determine what happened, and then uses his own personal code to decide who needs to be punished for it. For Lavardin, the law and justice aren’t the same thing.

Oh, and one last piece of the puzzle: the title. Une mort en trop, the title of Roulet’s novel, translates as “one death too many.” Chabrol’s title Poulet au vinaigre is a reference to the French dish of chicken in vinegar, and a pun on the fact that poulet is also French slang for “cop.” It’s a suitable metaphor for Lavardin’s acerbic manner. Since the pun wouldn’t translate into other languages, the film was retitled Cop au vin for distribution in English language territories. That’s a pun of its own on a different French dish, coq au vin (chicken in wine), but one that doesn’t necessarily capture Lavardin’s character. Yet the gamesmanship with the various titles seems entirely in line with the gamesmanship in the film itself. Nothing is ever quite as simple as it may seem on the surface.

Inspector Lavardin (aka Inspecteur Lavardin) was Chabrol’s immediate follow-up to Cop au vin, this time placing Dominique Roulet’s idiosyncratic detective front and center. Chabrol again collaborated with Roulet on the screenplay, which opens with the murder of a stuffy moralist who has shut down a local play over charges of blasphemy. When his body washes up on the beach with the word “pig” written on his back, Inspector Lavardin (Poiret) is brought in to investigate. The man’s widow Helene (Bernadette Lafont) is an old acquaintance of Lavardin’s, so he moves in with the family while he continues his investigation. Of course, nothing is ever as simple as it appears on the surface, and Lavardin once again finds himself uncovering a web of connections that involves some unexpected parties. Inspector Lavardin also stars Jacques Dacqmine, Jean-Claude Brialy, and Hermine Clair (in her one and only appearance as an actor).

Inspector Lavardin doesn’t merely skewer bourgeois morality; it also skewers bourgeois moralism. The film exposes the emptiness and hypocrisy of middle-class values in a rather singular fashion, and one that has gained increasing relevancy in the decades since it was made. Yet Chabrol doesn’t offer any kind of countervailing morality, as Lavardin continues to use any means that he deems fit, and he metes out his own particular brand of justice. Inspector Lavardin pushes that idea even farther than Cop au vin did, and Lavardin’s solution this time takes things to the next level. Justice is served, even if people aren’t necessarily punished for the right crimes. For Lavardin, that’s good enough.

While there would be no further cinematic adventures for the Inspector, the character made the transition to French television instead, appearing in the four-part series Les dossiers secrets de l'inspecteur Lavardin. Poiret returned to play the title role, and both Chabrol and Roulet handled the writing duties (though Chabrol only directed two of the four episodes). Poiret died just three years later, and so the franchise died with him.

Madame Bovary was the inevitable intersection between Chabrol and the great French literary realist Gustav Flaubert. Flaubert’s anti-romantic novel was natural material for Chabrol, as it dissects bourgeois values and pretensions with cold precision. Yet it took decades for Chabrol to finally bring the story to the screen, as he struggled to find a way to translate Flaubert’s literary style into an appropriate cinematic context. He finally cracked that puzzle to his satisfaction in 1991, and brought Madame Bovary to the screen, personified by the luminous Isabella Huppert.

Chabrol’s screenplay follows the novel closely. Emma Rouault (Huppert) is a young woman from a provincial family who dreams of wealth and society. She marries a doctor, Charles Bovary (Jean-Francois Balmer), but quickly becomes dissatisfied with his simple and clumsy manner. She neglects her own daughter, and her eye strays to Leon Dupuis (Lucas Belvaux), as well as to Rodolphe Boulanger (Christophe Malavoy), both of whom appeal to her romantic fantasies about relationships. She also borrows money to live beyond her means, and so her life begins to spiral out of control, as nothing is ever able to provide contentment for her.

Chabrol handles the material with the same cool detachment that Flaubert brought to the novel, creating a visual and emotional equivalent to literary realism by focusing on the mundane elements of Emma’s life. He also relied on what he called Huppert’s “extraordinary gift of expressing things without changing her face,” and that left much to be interpreted by the viewer. He did add some sporadic voiceover narrations to clarify a few points, but for the most part, Emma’s interior life is left to the mercies of how audiences interpret Huppert’s expressionless expressions—she’s the Kuleshov Effect personified. As a result, Flaubert’s precision can seem less precise as translated visually here by Chabrol. Huppert is as wonderful as ever, despite the fact that she looks nothing like Flaubert’s description of Emma, but the success of the film depends on viewers becoming active participants in Huppert’s process. It’s an interesting approach, and it signifies the great level of trust that Chabrol had in his actors.

Betty was an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Belgian writer Georges Simenon. Simenon was the creator of police commissaire Jules Maigret, who featured in seventy novels and numerous short stories by the prolific author. Of course, Chabrol wasn’t particularly interested in detective stories, so instead he turned to Simenon’s portrait of addiction in the bourgeois milieu. Betty (Marie Trintignant) is an alcoholic who wanders aimlessly through bar after bar (and man after man) until she ends at Le Trou, a lounge owned by Mario (Jean-Francois Garreaud). Mario’s lover Laure (Stephane Audran) takes Betty under her wing, and she provides Betty with temporary shelter in her hotel suite. Laure is fascinated with Betty, and as the two get to know each other, she learns more about what led Betty to this point in her life. Yet Betty’s scars run deep, and Laure eventually finds herself in the crosshairs of Betty’s innately self-destructive nature.

The setting for Betty may be quite different than Chabrol’s preceding film Madame Bovary, but it still shares the same fascination with the pretentious hypocrisy inherent to middle-class values. In that respect, it shares as much in common with Inspector Lavardin. Betty may not be a detective story on a narrative level, but it’s actually Chabrol who serves as commissaire here, ruthlessly exposing the false piety that lies under the veneer of bourgeois respectability. There’s no real narrative at all in Betty, just a string of events (both past and present) that serve to shape the personality of the titular character. It’s a savage portrait of the vicissitudes that can lead to seemingly aberrant behavior. Considered from that angle, Betty is actually a psychological horror film, but the monster in this case is the entire bourgeois value system.

Torment (aka L'enfer) had a tortured path to reach the screen. The project started in 1964 under the aegis of Henri-Georges Clouzot, a director who had also drawn frequent comparisons to Hitchcock thanks to films like Diabolique. Clouzot’s version of L’enfer was a famously troubled production, and he had to abandon the film after just three weeks of shooting. Decades later, Chabrol would end up adapting the first of several drafts of the screenplay originally written by Clouzot, Jean Ferry, and Jose-Andre Lacour. He simplified their structure by eliminating flashbacks, but there’s nothing simple or straightforward about the way that Chabrol’s version of the narrative unfolds. Paul (Francois Cluzet) is the owner of an idyllic lakeside hotel. He has a seemingly storybook marriage to Nelly (Emmanuelle Beart), but as the stresses of running a business start to wear him down, he begins to suspect that Nelly is cheating on him. She protests her innocence, but Paul is unable to contain his jealousy, and their relationship starts to unravel—along with Paul’s mental state.

Chabrol chose to film Torment entirely from Paul’s perspective, and so Nelly remains somewhat enigmatic. Viewers are never given the opportunity to see what kind of person that she really may be. Instead, everything that’s visible on screen has been filtered through Paul’s warped perceptions, and he’s the ultimate in unreliable narrators. Paul feels that his life is spiraling out of his control, and his irrational jealousy makes that a self-fulfilling prophecy. Chabrol described Paul this way:

His weakness at the beginning is that he aimed a little too high in all aspects: his hotel is a little too big, he has too many debts, he married a woman who is too beautiful and he knows it. All this torments him and makes him paranoid.”

That’s doubtless why the English-language title for the film is Torment, but L’enfer would be more accurately translated as “Hell.” Paul is indeed caught inside a hell of his own creation, and the torments that he experiences create a purgatory from which he has no means of escape. He also traps Nelly inside a very different Hell, one that’s quite literal for many women in her position: the endless cycle of domestic abuse. He tries to control her, not based on anything that she’s done, but rather based on his own feelings of inadequacy. He uses his own lack of self-esteem against her, and wears her down in the process. As Torment progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate reality from Paul’s disturbed fantasies, but the way that his mental state impacts her remains all too plausible throughout the film. Sadly, so does the way that outsiders react to the situation: they’re disturbed by it, but unwilling to do anything practical to help. For Chabrol, the hollowness of the bourgeois value system becomes a Hell of its own, and so the story of Torment brought everything full circle for him.

Cinematographer Jean Rabier shot Cop au vin, Inspector Lavardin, and Madame Bovary on 35 mm film using Panavision cameras with spherical lenses, each of them framed at 1.66:1 for their theatrical releases. Everything looks clean for all three films, aside from a few very minor blemishes such as a hair on the bottom of the frame in one shot during Madame Bovary. Both Cop au vin and Inspector Lavardin look very similar, with moderately well-resolved fine detail and very fine grain. They also share a strong teal push in their color grades, and less than ideal black levels. That color timing doesn’t match previous editions, so it may prove controversial, but it looks acceptable when considered on its own. The grade for Madame Bovary doesn’t exhibit quite the same teal push, and the colors look more natural. It also benefits greatly from the 4K scan, as the level of fine detail is much stronger. The textures of the costuming and the environments are better resolved, as is the grain, and facial textures are stronger as well—Isabella Huppert’s subtle freckles are clearly distinguishable here. The black levels and the contrast are both a bit inconsistent, looking very strong in some shots, and flatter in others.

Cinematographer Bernard Zitzermann shot Betty and Torment on 35 mm film using spherical lenses, framed at 1.66:1 for their theatrical releases. Both of these films share the same advantages from the 4K scans that Madame Bovary did, with a nice level of fine detail. The color grades are noticeably different than that film, however, as these exhibit a strong slant towards orange and teal. That means that there’s more apparent contrast, which is unsurprising given the grading choice, but many of the whites tend to have a yellowish cast, and the flesh tones generally look bronzed. Again, it’s not an unattractive look when taken on its own merits, but it’s fair to question the accuracy when compared to previous versions. Everyone’s mileage will likely vary a bit depending on their familiarity with the material.

Audio for the first four films is presented in French 1.0 mono LPCM, while Torment is in French 2.0 LPCM. All five films feature removable English subtitles. The mono tracks share similar characteristics, and while they’re unremarkable, they’re clean, with clear dialogue. Chabrol’s son Matthieu contributed some interestingly varied scores, and they all sound fine here. The 2.0 track from Torment is a bit more puzzling, as the film was released theatrically in Dolby Stereo, but it’s essentially a mono track. The surrounds aren’t utilized, and there’s very little stereo separation of any kind. That said, it’s still a slightly stronger track than the other four, with a better frequency response, and more robust sound overall.

COP AU VIN (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B/B+/B
INSPECTOR LAVARDIN (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B-/B+/B
MADAME BOVARY (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B/A-/B
BETTY (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B+/A-/B
TORMENT (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): A-/A-/B+

The following extras are included:

DISC ONE: COP AU VIN

  • Audio Commentary by Ben Sachs
  • Ian Christie on Claude Chabrol (HD – 12:35)
  • Claude Chabrol at the BFI (Upscaled SD – 74:35)
  • Introduction by Joel Magny (Upscaled SD – 3:14)
  • Scene Commentaries by Claude Chabrol (Upscaled SD – 21:43)
  • Interview with Claude Chabrol, Jean Poiret & Stephane Audran (Upscaled SD – 29:38)
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:16)
  • Posters and Stills (HD – 24 in all)

The commentary is by Ben Sachs, who writes for both Chicago Reader, as well as the website Cine-File Chicago. He covers details about the film, including its themes, and places it into context with Chabrol’s filmography, as well as the director’s personal life. He’s prone to falling into silence at times, but there’s still plenty of good information here. Ian Christie on Claude Chabrol is a reflection by Christie on the opportunity that he had to interview Chabrol at the National Film Theatre in 1994, while Claude Chabrol at the BFI is that full interview, as well as the accompanying Q&A. It’s a comprehensive look at the director’s career. The Introduction by Joel Magny is a brief overview by the film scholar, originally created for the MK2 Region 2 DVD release of the film. The Scene Commentaries by Claude Chabrol also came from that MK2 release, with the director discussing three different scenes, including the opening and the finale. The Interview with Claude Chabrol, Jean Poiret & Stephane Audran is an episode of the series Special Cinema that aired on the Swiss TV channel RTS in 1985. It also includes a segment with Swiss director Francis Reusser and actor Isabel Otto.

DISC TWO: INSPECTOR LAVARDIN

  • Audio Commentary by Ben Sachs
  • Why Chabrol? (HD – 16:07)
  • Introduction by Joel Magny (Upscaled SD – 2:46)
  • Scene Commentaries by Claude Chabrol (Upscaled SD – 33:58)
  • Theatrical Trailer (Upscaled SD – 2:14)
  • Posters and Stills (HD – 10 in all)

Ben Sachs returns to do a commentary for this sequel, which was a good choice since it maintains a continuity between the two films. Since he had already gotten many broad details out of the way with his first commentary, he’s able to focus more on specifics this time (though once again, he falls into silence occasionally). Why Chabrol? is an interview with Sam Wigley, film critic as well as editor for the BFI. He examines Chabrol’s life and career to explain why the director remains relevant today. The Introduction by Joel Magny and the Scene Commentaries by Claude Chabrol came from MK2’s 2002 DVD release of Inspector Lavardin, with the latter once again focusing on three different scenes from the film. (He provides an interesting justification for one of the oddest details during the murder scene.)

DISC THREE: MADAME BOVARY

  • Audio Commentary by Kat Ellinger
  • Imagining Emma: Madame Bovary on Screen (HD – 16:06)
  • Introduction by Joel Magny (Upscaled SD – 2:31)
  • Scene Commentaries by Claude Chabrol (Upscaled SD – 37:59)
  • Theatrical Trailer (Upscaled SD – 1:22)
  • Posters and Stills (HD – 18 in all)

Author, editor, and film critic Kat Ellinger provides the commentary for Madame Bovary, and it’s perfect material for her. She discusses the natural affinity between Chabrol and Flaubert, goes into detail about the differences between the film and the novel, and also really drills down into the nature of the character of Emma Bovary. Imagining Emma is a visual essay by critic and historian Pamela Hutchinson, who looks at some of the various adaptations of Madame Bovary, with a natural emphasis on Chabrol’s version. There’s also another Introduction and Scene Commentaries by Claude Chabrol, once again from the MK2 DVD release. Chabrol covers five different scenes this time, and emphasizes the care that he took to be as faithful as possible to the novel.

DISC FOUR: BETTY

  • Audio Commentary by Kat Ellinger
  • Betty, from Simenon to Chabrol (HD – 16:16)
  • An Interview with Ros Schwartz (HD – 15:21)
  • Introduction by Joel Magny (Upscaled SD – 2:57)
  • Scene Commentaries by Claude Chabrol (Upscaled SD – 32:21)
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD – :53)
  • Posters and Stills (HD – 8 in all)

Ellinger returns for the commentary for Betty, and it’s also a natural fit for her. She analyzes the power dynamics in the film, and compares it in that respect to Chabrol’s Les Biches. She also examines the way that society treats both motherhood and female addiction. Betty, from Simenon to Chabrol is a visual essay by critic and historian Ginette Vincendeau, who traces the evolution of the story from the publication of the book to the release of the film. An Interview with Ros Schwartz is a conversation with the translator who rendered some of Simenon’s novels into English. She also serves as interpreter for Chabrol during the 1994 National Film Theatre interview with Ian Christie. There’s also another Introduction from Joel Magny and Scene Commentaries by Claude Chabrol from the MK2 DVDs, the latter including three scenes.

DISC FIVE: TORMENT

  • Audio Commentary by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas & Josh Nelson
  • Introduction by Film Scholar Joel Magny (Upscaled SD – 3:15)
  • Scene Commentaries by Claude Chabrol (Upscaled SD – 39:25)
  • Chabrol on Henri-Georges Clouzot (Upscaled SD – 11:44)
  • Interview with Marin Karmitz (HD – 25:49)
  • Theatrical Trailer (Upscaled SD – 1:21)
  • Posters and Stills (HD – 40 in all)

The final commentary track in the set is by film critic and author Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, accompanied by film scholar Josh Nelson. They delve into the relationship between the film and its troubled source material, as well as considering the themes of toxic masculinity and domestic violence in Chabrol’s version. There’s also a final Introduction by Joel Magny, and three different Scene Commentaries by Claude Chabrol. In Chabrol on Henri-Georges Clouzot, the director talks about Clouzot’s original plans for L’enfer, and how Chabrol rewrote the first draft of the script to better fit into his own capabilities. The Interview with Marin Karmitz offers the producer’s thoughts on his lengthy relationship with Chabrol, and on the process of bringing Clouzot’s original vision to the screen.

Taken together, it’s an extensive collection of extras with many hours of content, but that’s quite appropriate in this instance. Next to Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol was the most prolific director to come out of the French New Wave. Inevitably, that means that his output varied widely, and not all of his films have been equally well-regarded. With the possible exception of Torment, most of the films in Arrow’s Lies & Deceit set have sometimes been considered “lesser” Chabrol, but that’s a meaningless distinction. Every film needs to be considered on its own terms, not relative to others, and all of the films in this set are worthy of such consideration. This is precisely the kind of collection that deserves such a comprehensive collection of extras, in order to help reclaim films that may have been dismissed unfairly at times. There’s not a single film here that isn’t worthy of being added to the library of any serious film fan, and the wealth of bonus materials should serve to explain why.

- Stephen Bjork

(You can follow Stephen on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook.)

 

Tags

1985, 1986, 1991, 1992, 1994, Albert Dray, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, Andre Wilms, Andree Tainsy, Arrow Video, Ben Sachs, Bernadette Lafont, Bernard Zitzermann, Betty, Blu-ray, Blu-ray Disc, box set, boxed set, boxset, CAB Productions, Canal Plus, Caroline Cellier, Christiane Minazzoli, Christophe Malavoy, Claude Chabrol, Cop au Vin, crime, Dominique Roulet, Dominique Zardi, Dora Doll, drama, Emmanuelle Beart, Films A2, Florent Gibassier, France, Francis Reusser, Francois Cluzet, Francois Maistre, French, Georges Simenon, Ginette Vincendeau, Gustave Flaubert, Hell, Henri Attal, Henri Georges Clouzot, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Hermine Clair, Ian Christie, Inspecteur Lavardin, Isabel Otto, Isabelle Huppert, Jacques Dacqmine, Jacques Dynam, Jacques Frantz, Jean Poiret, Jean Rabier, Jean Topart, Jean Yanne, Jean-Claude Bouillaud, Jean-Claude Brialy, Jean-Francois Balmer, Jean-Francois Garreaud, Jean-Louis Maury, Jean-Luc Bideau, Jean-Michel Bernard, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Joel Magny, Josephine Chaplin, Josh Nelson, Kat Ellinger, L'Enfer, Lies and Deceit, Lies and Deceit Five Films by Claude Chabrol, Limited Edition, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Lucas Belvaux, Madame Bovary, Marc Lavoine, Marcel Guy, Marie Mergey, Marie Trintignant, Marin Karmitz, Mario David, Martryn Conterio, Matthieu Chabrol, Maurice Coignard, Michel Bouquet, MK2, MK2 Diffusion, MK2 Productions, Monique Fardoulis, Nathalie Cardone, Noel Simsolo, Pamela Hutchinson, Pauline Lafont, period drama, Phillip Kemp, Pierre Martot, Pierre Vernier, Pierre-Francois Dumeniaud, Poulet au vinaigre, psychological drama, review, Ros Schwartz, Sabeline Campo, Sam Wigley, Stephane Audran, Stephen Bjork, Studio Canal, StudioCanal, Sylvain Daurat, Television Suisse-Romande, The Digital Bits, Thomas Chabrol, Torment, TSR, Yves Lambrecht, Yves Verhoeven

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