Twisting The Knife: Four Films by Claude Chabrol (Cert 15)

4 Discs Blu-ray (Distributor: Arrow Video) Running Time: 106/113/101/105 minutes approx.

Release Date – April 25th

One the most prolific and celebrated of the French New Wave directors, Claude Chabrol enjoyed a career spanning over 50 years before his death in 2010. Arrow have collated some of Chabrol’s films into a series of Blu-ray box sets, this one featuring four films from his crime related output.

 

The Swindle from 1997 opens this collection. Small time con artists Betty (Isabelle Huppert) and Victor (Michel Serrault) specialise in duping businessmen out of their cash but never get too greedy to avoid suspicion. They operate out of a campervan, the scams mostly involve Betty seducing then drugging the victims, and Victor pilfers from their wallets and bank accounts.

Betty gets ambitious when she meets Maurice (François Cluzet), a courier for a group of money launderers due to take an attaché case containing 5 million Swiss francs to the Caribbean. Maurice invites Betty – or Sissi as he knows her – along for the trip, but she thinks Maurice might run away with the money. With Victor posing as an old Colonel, switch the case for one full of paper but the plan backfires spectacularly.

It takes a while to realise, but this is in fact quite a playful film rather than a flat out crime caper although it does follow much of the standard conventions of the genre to disguise this. Perhaps the subtle giveaway was La Huppert constantly smiling, something she rarely does in her films, but here she is on full beam for most of the time, and never looked more radiant, or dangerously sexy when in full succubus mode.

Huppert’s chemistry with Michel Serrault is a joy, his overly cautious but devious Victor proving a great foil for the fluttering butterfly that is Betty. The true nature of their relationship is kept ambiguous, even after it is revealed, such is the burden of being habitual liars. The plot is almost incidental to the verbose but never overwhelming flow of dialogue, but Chabrol manages to make a quietly charming film anyway.

 

The Colour Of Lies is a dour dissertation on life in France disguised as a murder mystery. In a small town, the body of a 10 year-old girl is found and the prime suspect is her art teacher René Sterne (Jacques Gamblin) as the last person to see her alive. As a former artist whose success is on the wane, the troubled René is soon the gossip of the town, as even his loyal wife Vivianne (Sandrine Bonnaire) wonders if he is guilty.

New chief of police Frédérique Lesage (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) is brought in to lead the investigation, struggling with the esoteric locals, whilst Vivianne finds herself seduced by smug writer Germain-Roland Desmot (Antoine de Caunes). When a second murder occurs, René is once again in the frame as top suspect, and this time the evidence is very much against him.

Chabrol said he wanted to make a film that reflected the changing moods and attitudes of modern day (1999) France but as a detective story, and a complex one at that. It isn’t so much that this is a complex film rather a bloated, often dull one. The central murder and investigation is largely an afterthought as the focus is more on the fractious René, his unsteady marriage, and the shenanigans of Desmot and Vivianne.

Gamblin turns in a layered performance as René, Bonnaire carries the weight of this film as the patient but yearning Vivianne, whilst Bruni-Tedeschi looks permanently bored and has every right to. Yet anyone watching who was a ‘90s kid will be stunned to see none other than Mr. Eurotrash himself, Antoine de Caunes in an acting role, playing a suave man of culture no less! Watching this film, I am convinced Hong Sang-soo must have seen it and was taking notes, it is very much akin to his style.

 

Nightcap, also known as Merci pour le Chocolat, from 2000 and is a film I have already reviewed on this site in full, so I direct you that post HERE if you wish to learn more. Suffice to say, upon re-watching it and being more familiar with Chabrol in the interim, my feelings are roughly the same, but I have a better appreciation and understanding of it today.

 

Finally, we have The Flower Of Evil. This 2003 political drama revolves around Anne Charpin-Vasseur (Nathalie Baye), a wife in her 50s who has chosen to enter into politics and run for mayor of Bordeaux. Her wealthy husband Gérard (Bernard Le Coq), who runs a pharmaceutical business, doesn’t like the idea and responds by having affairs. His son François (Benoît Magimel) returns from the US after four years but doesn’t have much time for his father.  

However, François is in love with Michèle (Mélanie Doutey), Anne’s daughter from her first marriage, which Gérard also disapproves of, but they have an ally in Anne’s Aunt Line (Suzanne Flon), an elderly woman with a complicated past. The family is thrown into turmoil when salacious revelations about them are published in a leaflet ahead of the election, but it may not be the work of Anne’s political rival.

Staying true to Chabrol’s style this is another film with an enticing premise for a taut, hard-boiled drama but instead focuses on the quotidian soap opera of the family via the medium of garrulous dialogue. The exposition of the family’s sordid and storied history is shared via the aforementioned leaflet, a convenient diegetic way to get us up to speed it has to be said but also takes up a lot of time.

A number of interesting developments weave their way into the plot although it doesn’t really lead to any real character growth, especially Anne, carrying on unaware of what is happening under her nose. It’s fortunate that Chabrol has chosen his cast wisely, with Nathalie Baye keeping the dignity level high, and Suzanne Flon stealing every scene as Aunt Line.

 

This may not be the best starting place for newcomers to Chabrol but it isn’t a bad one either, giving us a taste of his style and how he adapted to the modern era. For his loyal fans, the crisp HD transfers for these four films will make this a decisive purchase.

 

Extras:

Disc 1:

French Language Stereo

English Subtitles

Audio Commentary by Barry Forshaw and Sean Hogan

Chabrol’s “Soap Bubble”

Film As A Family Affair

Introduction by Film Scholar Joël Magny

Scene Commentaries by Claude Chabrol

Behind The Scenes

A Conversation With Isabelle Huppert

Theatrical Trailer

Stills Gallery

 

Disc 2:

French Language 2.0

English Subtitles

Audio Commentary by Barry Forshaw and Sean Hogan

Nothing Is Sacred

Introduction by Film Scholar Joël Magny

Scene Commentaries by Claude Chabrol

Behind The Scenes

Theatrical Trailer

Stills Gallery

 

Disc 3:

French Language 2.0 & 5.1

English Subtitles

Audio Commentary by Justine Smith

When I Pervert Good…

Introduction by Film Scholar Joël Magny

Scene Commentaries by Claude Chabrol

Isabelle Huppert, “Héroϊne Chabrolienne”

Interview With Jacques Dutronc

Behind The Scenes

Screen Test For Anna Mouglalis

Theatrical Trailer

Stills Gallery

 

Disc 4:

French Language 2.0 & 5.1

English Subtitles

Audio Commentary by Farran Smith Nehme

Behind The Masks

Introduction by Film Scholar Joël Magny

Scene Commentaries by Claude Chabrol

Behind The Scenes

Interview With Screenwriter Catherine Eliacheff

Theatrical Trailer

Stills Gallery

Reversible Sleeve

First Pressing Only:

Illustrated Collector’s Booklet

 

 

Rating – **** 

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