With 3 Classic Films by Claude Chabrol The Cohen Film Collection offers up a trio of later period films by esteemed French director Claude Chabrol in high definition for the first time. Let's start with some thoughts on the movies before getting to the technical aspects of this release.
The strikingly beautiful Marie Trintignant stars in this film as the titular Betty, and as pretty as she might be, she's damaged goods. Maybe. See, when we first meet her, we're not so sure. She likes a drink we know that much, and anyone willing to buy her a drink would seem to earn her good graces almost instantly. Her home life, however, is basically gone… shattered by the husband that she might have cheated on, whose family ostracized her and who took away her two children. Is Betty hitting the bottle because she has nothing else to live for?
From there, she meets an older woman named Laure (Stéphane Audran) who seems to have an interest in caring for her. She's sympathetic to her plight to an almost uncanny degree. Betty appreciates her kindness and we, the audience, are left wondering as to her motive. Shortly after, we learn that the bartender, Mario (Jean-François Garreaud), who has been plying Betty with alcohol all night long is actually Laure's boyfriend, and as Chabrol uses some very well timed flashbacks to fill us in on Betty's true past, we're kept guessing as to who is really up to what and why.
Suspenseful but not in the Hitchockian style, Betty is a gripping mix of melodrama, character study and mystery. Chabrol's story, based on the novel of the same name by Georges Simenon, unfolds at an unusual but highly effective pace. We're instantly interested in Betty as soon as we meet her, and that's without knowing the first thing about her. This unfolds naturally, with an appreciable sense of fluid movement, never feeling forced or made up of conveniences. The movie isn't plotless by any stretch, but there are times before it finishes where you might wonder if it is. Those flashbacks though, they pull us in, they explain all that we need to know and very little, if anything, more than that.
Stéphane Audran, who was married to Chabrol for a while (but not while this film was being made), is excellent as the older lady who takes Betty under her wing. She's believable and well-cast here, and she has interesting chemistry with Jean-François Garreaud, whose motives are also not so clear. This is, however, Marie Trintignant's show more than anyone else's. Not only is she beautiful and tragic and fragile, she's also clever and devious and potentially sinister in her own strange way.
Torment (L'Enfer, 1994):
Based on a script by Henri-Georges Clouzot, Torment stars Chabrol regular François Cluzet as a young man named Paul Priur. He and his beautiful wife Nelly (Emmanuelle Béart) own and operate a small hotel out in the French countryside, the Hotel Du Lac. Although they haven't been married long, Paul quickly starts to succumb to some of the stress that he's under and this manifests when he begins to think that Nelly is flirting far too often with other men.
As Paul's jealously quickly turns from suspicion to outright madness, it looks like he's going to completely crack. But is this all in his head or is Nelly really playing around behind his back? She seems to care for him very much. After she gets too friendly for Paul's liking with a handsome hotel guest named Martineau (Marc Lavoine), it seems like this won't end well for anyone…
With a screenplay from Henri-Georges Clouzot, the man who gave us the masterful The Wages Of Fear and Diabolique, Torment is a fascinating portrait of a man suffering from some serious insecurity issues. Not only are the pressures of his job getting to him but deep down inside he worries that his wife is out of is league. He lets this eat away at him to the point where he has trouble separating fiction from reality. While it's tragic to watch what happens, in the hands of a director like Chabrol you can't help but get wrapped up in all of it. The melodrama is a little thick in spots but like so many of the director's best films, it comes with a healthy side of suspense, and of course, some pointed social commentary regarding the foils of the upper class.
Once again, the quality of the performances matter a lot here. François Cluzet is excellent as the anguished husband in over his head both in his work life and his personal life. His stress levels seem genuine thanks to some solid acting and Cluzet's ability to realistically portray an interesting, if somewhat twisted, character. Emmanuelle Béart is a stunner in this picture, and you can see why her husband might get possessive of her. She's always shot in such a way as to accentuate her good looks, but as to whether or not she's actually messing around behind Paul's back? That would be telling. Regardless, she's excellent in the role and the camera loves her.
The Swindle (1997):
Last but not least, The Swindle stars Isabelle Huppert and Michel Serrault star as Betty and Victor, two con-artists hoping to find their next big score at a casino. Their scam is pretty basic: Betty charms wealthy businessmen into trusting her, at which point the drugs she gives them kick in and Victor shows up to help make off with whatever they can snag. They've been at this a long time and they work very well together.
When Betty meets a man named Maurice (François Cluzet) and learns that he works as a treasurer for a massive corporation, her interest is piqued and she decides to work this job solo. As such, when it is revealed that Maurice is to transfer five million francs out of a Swiss account, she starts to wonder if he isn't intending to keep it all for himself, while Victor starts poking about. Somewhat predictably, there are double crosses aplenty and a whole lot of trust issues creep into the picture.
Far lighter than most of Chabrol's other pictures, The Swindle (which was the director's fiftieth motion picture) is entertaining enough if never at the level of his better pictures. Like most of his films the picture is beautifully shot but never flamboyant about it. The cinematography is classy and the locations often times very impressive. Each of the films in this set features strong production values, but this might actually be the best looking of the three. It's a shame then that the story itself is just so-so. The movie balances lighthearted comedy with drama and traditional caper film motifs in fairly equal measure but maybe for that very reason it never quite succeeds in catching fire the way you want it to.
Thankfully there's Huppert and Serrault. The breeze through the film with ease, delivering a pair of likeable characters that are just fun to watch. The story comes second here, for better or worse, as Chabrol seems to fall in love with the two performers. And you can't fault him for that, they just ooze charm. François Cluzet, a damn fine actor in his own right, plays second fiddle to the other two leads but to his credit, he too turns in fine work. The Swindle is not the classy suspense film that the director is so instantly identified with, but a classy, if lackluster, mix of comedy and crime.The Blu-ray:
3 Classic Films by Claude Chabrol presents each one of the three films in this set on its own 50GB Blu-ray disc in their original 1.67.1 aspect ratio and in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Each transfer shares similar qualities. The colors are reproduced very naturally and realistically, befitting Chabrol's tendency to put realism over stylistic exuberance. The image quality is naturally grainy, which can result in the occasional darker interior scene looking a bit chunky, but rarely distractingly so. Print damage is rare, limited when it does appear to minor specks here and there. The picture quality shows good depth, detail and texture and is free of any obvious compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction. These transfers are very film like and should please fans of the director's work.Sound:
Each film receives a French language LPCM 2.0 Stereo track with forced (but not burned-in) subtitles offered up in English only. The audio here is just fine. Each track is nicely balanced and offers clean, clear dialogue. The subtitles are easy to read and free of any obvious typographical errors and there isn't any noticeable hiss or distortion on either of the three tracks. These aren't action packed movies full of over the top set pieces so it's doubtful that surround mixes would have really added to the experiences much. What's here is good. It's concise, it has good range and depth and it provides perfectly solid listening experiences for each picture.Extras:
Extras are specific to each of the three discs in the set.
Betty includes only a theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection.
L'enfer includes a theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection but also throws in a commentary track from Wade Major and Andy Klein. Like the commentary tracks that these guys have done for other Chabrol releases, it's well researched and includes some critical analysis alongside the standard ‘who did what and when' anecdotes. They note some of the themes that the picture deals with, annotate the performances and provide their own thoughts on what works so well in this particular feature.
The Swindle includes a theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection but also throws in a commentary track from Wade Major and Andy Klein and an interview with François Cluzet conducted by New York Film Festival Director Kent Jones. The commentary is on par with the track provided for L'Enfer, though obviously it is film specific. Again, it's a nice mix of background information and analysis that covers the contributions of the cast and crew, the themes and concepts explored in the film and Chabrol's unique style. The interview with Cluzet runs over forty-two minutes in length and while it's not specific to this picture and covers plenty of other pictures that the actor has been involved with over the years. It also includes his thoughts on working with the director on this film and a few of the other films that they have made together.Final Thoughts:
3 Classic Films By Claude Chabrol offers up a trio of pictures that, if not among the lauded director's truly best films, are very well made indeed. Each pictures offers up a nice mix of suspense and drama, great performances and solid production values to complement the engaging storylines. The three disc Blu-ray set from Cohen is quite good. If it isn't stacked with supplemental features it isn't barebones either, and transfers and lossless audio quality is very strong. Recommended.