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Home Vision Entertainment
1987 / Color / 1:78 anamorphic 16:9 / 100 min. / Street Date July 27, 2004 / 19.95
Starring Philippe Noiret, Robin Renucci, Bernadette Lafont, Monique Chaumette, Anne Brochet, Roger Dumas, Pierre-Francois Dumeniaud
Cinematography Jean Rabier
Production Designer Francoise Benoit-Fresco
Film Editor Monique Fardoulis
Original Music Matthieu Chabrol
Written by Odile Barski & Claude Chabrol
Produced by Marin Karmitz
Directed by Claude Chabrol

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Claude Chabrol's most Hitchcockian thriller has its coy touches, as when the familiar Funeral March of a Marionette is cued - more than once. The clever show relies less on plot tricks than o n impressive character development, and what begins as a straight mystery has a couple of unusually dark levels.


Christian Legagneur (Philippe Noiret) is a fabulously successful gameshow host who makes his living presenting softhearted fantasies for aged couples. He engages a writer, Roland Wolf (Robin Renucci), to commemorate his illustrious career in book form and they retire to Legagneur's country estate for several days of interviews. Wolf finds his host at the head of an odd household of retainers and servants happily taking care of Legagneur's suspiciously sickly stepdaughter Catherine (Anne Brochet), whom Leganeur won't trust to "incompetent" doctors. But Wolf has a suspicious side as well - he's smuggled a gun into the house and starts searching for signs of an earlier visitor, a Miss Chevalier who disappeared mysteriously.

Claude Chabrol may admire Alfred Hitchcock, but compared to "the master" his thrillers tend to be more relaxed in the visual formalities and more persuasive in character details. In this case, the idea of an amateur sleuth invading the home of a respected celebrity brings back other possible models, including Edgar Ulmer's Strange Illusion, and Michael Curtiz' The Unsuspected with Claude Rains as a Legagneur-like broadcast star. Masques is a cat-and-mouse game, but never a gimmicky puzzle picture like the superficially similar Sleuth.

The great actor Philippe Noiret is the star here, and Chabrol uses his charm brilliantly. Unlike the haughty, imperious Claude Rains, Noiret is the soul of cultured charm, always attentive, always concerned for the welfare of his guests and his servants. His attention to his stepdaughter's "condition" is so keen as to raise our first suspicions against him - she has a number of weird symptoms but is being attended to without the help of doctors. Is Catherine being slowly poisoned, like Ingrid Bergman in Notorious?

Roland turns from intruder to would-be-rescuer when it becomes clear that his intention is to exact revenge on Legagneur (it would be wrong to explain exactly why). He's sort of a one-man spy operation there not to sing the TV star's praises but to bring him down. Some of the servants are potential allies and others are not, and he has to maintain a consistent facade to face Legagneur's probing questions. Does his host suspect, or is he only concerned that Roland is seducing his daughter?

The title Masques becomes clear when we realize that the ostensible hero Roland (such a noble name) may have just as much to hide as the culpable TV star. Roland tries not to show any of his cards, yet lets slip that his motives aren't as pure as they might seem. If his entire nice guy-writer persona is just an act, how do we know he's not simply seeking to replace Legagneur as "curator" of Catherine's considerable fortune?

Catherine's sickly status is enforced with a few clever tricks, such as the sunglasses she always wears. It looks as though actress Anne Brochet's pupils were dilated for many scenes, which leads us to hope that her eyes were protected from the studio lights. The result is that Catherine looks as delicate and helpless as Édith Scob's Christiane in Eyes Without a Face, the perfect damsel in need of rescue.

The cleverly-plotted film wraps up in a studio scene where Legagneur delivers an almost touching tirade against the hypocrisy of his television act, the public face that pretends to be enchanted by the warmth and devotion of the elderly couples in his daily talent contest. His mask of loving concern is a fake, and Chabrol's "cure" for the whole business is to simply turn off the offending television box.

I see a cogent political parallel in Masques. Catherine is the nation (France), rich with material wealth and cultural beauty (those Monet paintings) but in the clutches of a ruthlessly cynical political party (Legagneur) that pretends to care for her while secretly looting her resources. The politicians broadcast a false front of selfless concern, pieties, homilies and other calculated b.s. in all directions. Roland is the reformer, armed with facts about the ruling party and eager to find the weaknesses that will bring it down. Under full scrutiny of his enemy, Roland has to convince Catherine (the nation) that her situation is a lie and that she needs a radical change of management. And who shall take over the reins after Legagneur is brought low? Roland, of course, who has already expressed a keen interest in Catherine's money and paintings.

Masques is a pleasant thriller with only a few really tense moments and a last-minute rescue that never seems too threatening. But the character subtleties are rich and rewarding. We don't remember stunning suspense sequences, but we do remember the devious twinkle in Noiret and Renucci's eyes.

Home Vision's DVD of Masques is another handsome MK2 transfer, impeccably presented in 16:9, lush color and transferred at a proper 24 fps speed. The only disappointment is a lack of extras, but the picture is reward enough on its own. Guy Austin's perceptive liner notes focus evenly on Claude Chabrol's career in France - all intriguing analysis - and thoughts about Masques itself - slightly sketchier.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Masques rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: none
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: July 24, 2004

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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