Color of Lies (Au Coeur du mensonge) is very much a film that stays true to the formula that made Claude Chabrol one of the most recognizable names in French cinema. Structured as a part-mystery-part-social-drama this relatively straightforward production explores the relationship between a painter in crisis, Rene (Jacques Gamblin) and his partner Viviane (Sandrine Bonnaire).
In the small fishing community where Rene and Viviane reside a little girl is brutally raped. Being the last person to be seen with the victim as well as being her regular art teacher Rene is the subject of an ongoing investigation which puts a strain on his already troubled relationship with Viviane. To make things worse, a conceited local reporter (Antoine de Caunes) attempts to stray Viviane away from Rene in a time when he needs both her affection and moral support.
Despite the presence of all the signature elements that are typically attributed to Chabrol's stories and the stylistic intensity which his films are infused with Color of Lies is one of the more conventional productions I have seen from the great director. The mystery, the intentional confusion which Chabrol delivers, the delicate nuances that make his characters stand out are all here, yet Color of Lies never really engages its viewers in a way that for instance La Ceremonie does. Apart from the emotional turmoil between Rene and Viviane which is worth seeing the rest of the film is rather easily predictable especially if you happen to be familiar with Chabrol's earlier works.
It is almost impossible not to feel a tiny bit disappointed that Color of Lies is not the emotional roller-coaster one would hope for after seeing Sandrine Bonnaire, an actress I have an utmost respect for, and Jacques Gamblin, an actor that has been tremendously underrated, together on the big screen. While they both feel very comfortable in their roles and especially towards the climax of Colors of Lies I felt they had a perfect chemistry, I believe the script never really allowed them to manipulate the story in a manner that would have elevated the element of surprise to a higher, more sophisticated level. In fact, the plot followed a story that I was expecting and aside from a few worthy social remarks which Chabrol masterfully leaves behind Color of Lies does not offer much in terms of substance.
In terms of style, thankfully it is all there and fans of the classic Chabrol will not be disappointed. In fact, most of the cinematography in Color of Lies is unusually impressive, something Chabrol is not particularly well-known for. I suppose one could claim that he is more effective with his ability to create a superb dialog-driven story which is often referred to as an example of stylistic precision, than his ability to deliver a strikingly beautiful cinematography.
The subtle social critique which Chabrol sets out to deliver in Color of Lies is perhaps the only aspect of the film that somewhat lives up to the expectations. There are a few references that are certainly well targeted and provide an interesting look at the complexity of French provincial life and the calm attitude with which people regard tragedies. Even they, however, remain underdeveloped and fail to enhance sufficiently a rather predictable, if not disappointing, narrative.
How Does the DVD Look?
I was especially nervous before receiving my copy of Color of Lies as I had preliminary information indicating that KINO were intending to port the existing MK2 masters from Chabrol's collection (Claude Chabrol's works have been available for quite some time now in France in the form of superbly mastered sets offered by MK2). Fortunately enough KINO have properly converted the French masters (therefore avoiding the dreadful PAL to NTSC "ghosting" so many R1 releases are "known" for) and we have a beautiful image quality free of any conversion imperfections. While there are some occasional dust specs and contrast especially during night-time scenes appears just a tiny bit off the image quality offered here is almost identical to the quality of the French disc.
With this said I would like to point out that the original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 has been preserved and the DVD is enhanced for 16/9 TV's. An excellent choice by KINO which I hope more distributors will embrace as a standard as the benefits from a tight and strong anamorphic image are beyond any doubt. Overall, I am extremely pleased that FINALLY we have an adequate quality for a Chabrol film (unlike some of the poor attempts delivered by Koch Films). In French with optional English subtitles. Very well done!!!
Gary Tooze from DVDBEAVER has been able to capture "combing" in this release by KINO which will ultimately cause some problems for viewers with high-end progressive equipment. Please account its significance when considering a purchase.
How Does the DVD Sound?
The original French Dolby Surround track provided here is rather well mixed and I did not find any issues worthy of discussing. Generally the dialog and music soundtrack are well balanced and for those fluent in French and willing to view the film without subtitles I do not foresee any problems that you might encounter in terms of sound clarity.
Being an exact replica of the French MK2 disc KINO's version offers the same extras present on the French disc:
"Moteurs Actions Indiscretions"- A Making Of Documentary on The Color of Lies-
A Presentation by Film scholar Joel Magny-
Original French Trailer-
Though Color of Lies is not one of the better Claude Chabrol films I am especially pleased to see that finally a distributor has managed to properly present his film(s) in North America. In a time when so many companies willingly "cheat" North American consumers with abysmal PAL-NTSC ports of foreign films it is truly a revelation finding that KINO have had the vision to do a deserving transfer. If this is a sign of things to come I am very, very excited as KINO will certainly be on my priority list. Very well done!!