The third feature film written and directed by French auteur Alain Robbe-Grillet (and made the year after the success of his classic Trans-Europ Express, 1968's The Man Who Lies once again reunites the director with leading man Jean-Louis Trintignant. Though he's shot in the opening credits sequence that takes place during the Second World War, we soon meet him as Boris, a man who has returned to the small French village where he tells anyone who will listen that he bravely fought in the Resistance. The villagers already have a war hero of their own, however, and that would be Jean Robin (also played by Trintignant), a man who was killed by the Germans during the occupation.
Nevertheless, Boris makes his way into the stately castle where Jean's father lives and works as a servant. Here he meets three beautiful women: the late soldier's widow, his sister and their housekeeper (Zuzana Kocúriková, Sylvie Turbová and Sylvie Bréal). After first seducing the housekeeper, he quickly moves on to conquer the other two women as well. Satiated, he sets about digging up what he can around town, talking up his story and making strange contradictions about what really happened during the war. When a man arrives in town who may actually be the real Jean Robin, the truth about his relationship with Boris and the events that really occurred years before becomes increasingly blurred with what we assume is Boris' fabricated fantasy world.
Shades of the filmmaker's script for Last Year At Marienbad can be picked up on throughout the movie but here he blends that with the pseudo-surrealism he'd started toying with in Trans-Europ Express, a film that, like this one, is more concerned with the viewer's interpretation of reality than reality itself. Though the mystery behind the story is pretty easy to figure out if you're even half way paying attention, the payoff here is not in the film's attempts at suspense (some of which work better than others) but in its fantastic visuals and thinly veiled sexuality. As it is with much of Robbe-Grillet's work, the film toys with sex games, be it with a woman with a blindfold, fetish outfits or hints at lesbianism. The man's obsession with kink isn't something he really ever tried to hide and if nothing else it makes for some fantastic compositions and interesting, mildly thrilling set pieces.
Politically speaking the movie would seem to be making some sometimes less than subtle barbs towards France's history, specifically during the era in which the story takes place. There's a strong theme of disloyalty and betrayal running throughout the film and not just in the plot thread concerning the truth behind the Boris/Jean connection. You come away from the picture wondering if anyone it is truly honest and this, again, ties into the readings of the film's politics. While much of the film's scenes of dialogue have an almost improvisational feel to them, you also get the impression that everything that happens in the film and which is uttered by its cast is wholly intentional.
The female cast members don't have all that much to do except to indulge and by their indulgences further various plot points, such as they are. This leaves the heavy lifting in the capable hands of Jean-Louis Trintignant who had, by this point in time, proven himself a capable and worthy leading man. He handles the dialogue well and brings to the movie a strong sense of confusion, one befitting of his character, his situation and his surroundings. This isn't quite as strong a film as some of the director's other works but for those familiar with and who appreciate Alain Robbe-Grillet's unique style, it's absolutely worth a watch.
The Man Who Lies looks pretty good on Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer presented in 1.33.1 fullframe. There are some minor specks and tiny scratches here and there but no seriously distracting print damage. The elements used were obviously in great shape, however, and the healthy bit rate ensures that this movie looks really improves over standard definition offerings. The contrast looks very strong here, though as it is in some of his other black and white films there are a few spots where the original photography lets the whites get a bit hot. Black levels are strong throughout, they border on dark grey in a few spots but those are the exception and not the rule. Detail is vastly improved from previous standard definition presentations as is texture. The image is consistently sharp and shows good shadow detail in the darker scenes as well. There are no issues with compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction at all. This is a very solid, film-like picture that leaves little to complain about.
The only audio option for the feature is a French language LPCM 2.0 Mono track with optional subtitles provided in English only. Generally speaking it's quite a good mix, if a bit thin at times. There's a little bit of hiss here and there but it's not all that distracting unless you're overly susceptible to such things, and most won't likely even notice it. The dialogue is generally very clean and clear and there are no issues with the levels, which are properly balanced throughout. The score sounds quite good, it has a lot more depth than you might expect and it's a very effective piece of work that enhances the film a lot. The English subtitles are easy to read and free of any typographical errors.
The main extra on the disc is an interview with Alain Robbe-Grillet that runs roughly half an hour in length. Here the director discusses the origins of this picture, where some of the ideas for the story came from, some of the imagery used in the picture and the contributions of the cast and crew. Robbe-Grillet is an interesting guy with a lot to say about all of his films, this one included. If you're interested in getting inside his head a little bit and figuring out just what he was going for, this allows you to get there and as such, it's quite worth watching. This is an interesting discussion and the director comes off as smart and likeable.
Outside of that we get a trailer for the feature, trailers for two other Robbe-Grillet film's available from Redemption, a ‘2014 Promo Reel,' static menus and chapter selection options.
The Man Who Lies isn't the best starting point for those new to Alain Robbe-Grillet's work but it's an interesting, stylish and at times intriguingly sexy mix of mystery and artsy surrealism, the kind that fans of his work will no doubt appreciate. The Blu-ray release from Redemption is as strong as their previous representations of the director's work, meaning it gets strong audio, an excellent transfer and an interesting bonus interview with the man who made the movie. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.