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Lies and Deceit: Five Films by Claude Chabrol (5-Disc Limited Edition)

Arrow Video // Unrated // February 22, 2022
List Price: $99.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ian Jane | posted March 9, 2022 | E-mail the Author

The Movie:

Arrow Video's boxed set release of Lies And Deceit: Five Films By Claude Chabrol is, just as it sounds, a collection of five films from the filmmaker many consider to be the French Alfred Hitchcock. While many consider Chabrol's earlier films to be superior to the ones included in this collection, those willing to give this material a chance will find quite a bit to look in both the feature films it offers up, and the care that Arrow has put into the set.

Chicken With Vinegar (a.k.a. Cop Au Ain a.k.a. Poulet au Vinaigre, 1985):

The first film begins when a photographer covertly snaps pictures of the attendees at a birthday party being held for a wealthy socialite woman named Delphine (Josephine Chaplin). Various characters are introduced here, fairly quickly and without a whole lot of focus, after which we meet up with a postman named Louis Cuno (Lucas Belvaux) and his mother, Madame Cuno (Stephane Audran), the later of the two bound to her wheelchair. The Cuno family has seen better days. The home the share that was once obviously quite lavish is no longer what it once was and the powers that be at city hall would just as soon see them leave so their land can be developed.

This tension comes to a boil when a man named Filiot (Jean-Claude Bouillaud) and Delphine's husband, Doctor Morasseau (Jean Topart), collaborate with a lawyer named lawyer Lavoisier (Michel Bouquet) to confront Louis and pressure him, but Louis really won't crack under their pressure. Why? Because he and his mother have been using his position as a postman to their advantage by cleverly opening and reading the mail of those conspiring against them. As such, they know all about the townsfolk's dirty laundry, including the fact that Delphine is involved in a torrid love affair. When Delphine goes missing and then later her best friend, Louis, who has been out causing pretty trouble for his foes late at night, winds up in the hot seat. Inspector Lavardin (Jean Poiret) is called in to try sort out the mystery and find out not only what has really happened to the two missing women, but of course, also who is responsible for the crime in the first place.

Anyone even half way paying attention early on in the picture should be able to figure this one out without too much of a stretch, but the story is one well told and the movie one worth watching. Chabrol lets the plot unfold with an emphasis on tension and while the camera work is effective and at times even slick, he takes a minimalist approach to the visuals so as not to distract from the plot. As is typical with most of the director's work, Chicken And Vinegar takes some potshots at the bourgeois elitists out to do away with the Cuno, though neither Louis nor his mother are noble, let alone innocent. This is one of those movies where everyone is guilty and everyone has a skeleton in their closet that they'd rather not have exposed.

While the titular Inspector Lavardin doesn't really appear in the film until the second half, Chabrol manages to make him the focal point of the movie. Poiret plays this part well, drawing from influences like Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson as much as he is actors like Peter Ustinov who played Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot. He approaches the case without much emotion and instead uses cold, clinical logic and solid detective work to crack it. Supporting efforts from Josephine Chaplin (Charlie's daughter) and both Lucas Belvaux and Stephane Audran are notable and very effective but it's Poiret who is truly memorable here. He's tough as nails and not opposed to getting tough if he needs to and while the story does allow him to figure things out as easily as an attentive viewer might, that doesn't really take away from the quality of the work on display. The character is handled so well, in fact, the Poiret and Chabrol pretty much immediately went into production on a follow up film (and then a television series), which brings us to…

Inspector Lavardin (1986):

The second film begins when the corpse of a man named Raoul Mons (Jacques Dacqmine) washes up on the beach of a small town. While this is reason for concern in and of itself, the fact that he appears to have been stripped naked and had the word ‘PIG' carved into his torso is definitely a reason to get the cops involved. Mons, before his murder, was a bit of a puritan, a devout Catholic who exercised his political influence to serve his own personal morality rather than in the interests of fairness.

Lavardin is, expectedly, called in to investigate and logically he starts by talking to the late man's wife, Hélène (Bernadette Lafont). Upon meeting the newly widowed woman, Lavardin is surprised to find that she's an old flame, a woman he was involved with years ago. Before you know it, Lavardin and Hélène are gleefully reunited and he's befriended both her brother Claude (Jean-Claude Brialy) and her daughter Véronique (Hermine Clair). Now with more or less unfettered access to Raoul's life and work, he does set about trying to figure out who his killer was, but the more that comes out about what Raoul was involved with behind closed doors the more suspects there seem to be…

Chabrol's sense of black humor and disdain for both the bourgeois and the hypocritical all mix together in interesting ways in this second film. While the mystery isn't nearly as taut and the film is sometimes played more for laughs than for thrills, and in fact at times the director takes things into territory that is downright farcical as we witness firsthand the habits and traits of the upper class that he so enjoys taking down a few pegs. By inserting Lavardin wholly into this environment, wherein his paternal instincts and old feelings for Hélène become completely bloated, we see this accelerate and as the inspector closes in on the truth behind the case that has become now so entwined with his personal life, the movie manages to provide some pretty twisted entertainment.

By domesticating Lavardin this time around, Chabrol allows for more character development than we got in the first picture. Introducing Hélène as an element of his past serves to offer up some background information about the strong willed detective, their banter alerting us to some interesting details about his younger days and fleshing him out in effective ways. Again, Poiret plays the part well and his on screen chemistry with both the gorgeous Ms. Lafont and the far more rascally Brialy as the brother is interesting to watch. In fact, while Claude's character may seem as just one of the many quirky supporting players Chabrol uses in his pictures, he soon proves to be a far more important part of the story than is first apparent and Brialy crafts in him quite an interesting character.

Madame Bovary:

Based on the novel of the same name by Gustave Flaubert, Claude Chabrol's 1991 adaptation of Madame Bovary stars Isabelle Huppert as a beautiful young woman named Emma who has spent much of her life on her father's farm. Things change for her when her father decides she should get involved with Dr. Charles Bovary (Jean-François Balmer), a handsome enough man with plenty of prospects. Soon enough, they are wed but it isn't long before Emma comes to the conclusion that she really just isn't all that interested in Charles.

They move from the countryside to the city but even this change of scenery doesn't do anything to move the needle. Soon, Emma has started taking an interest in other men, like Léon Dupuis (Lucas Belvaux), a court reporter who is handsome, cultured and well-read, but she doesn't stick with him for very long either. She then carries on a lengthy affair with well-to-do Rodolphe Boulanger (Christophe Malavoy), but when time dulls that spark, she winds up back with Léon. This time around, Léon needs some coaxing and thankfully for Emma, she has that in the way of Charles' money. Things go downhill from here as Emma winds up in trouble, used by various players who only want her for a quick romp in the sack.

A tragic look and an unhappy marriage and how it can all come undone so quickly without intention, Chabrol's adaptation of Madame Bovary isn't really one of the thrillers that he's best known for but it has many of his stamps all over it. It deals with an unhappy member of the upper class, it contains quite a bit of backstabbing and deceit, and it's beautifully shot and very well-acted. The production values are strong across the board, the locations used for the film's different backdrops all look great and the costume work is top-notch. The film also benefits from a good score and some very nice cinematography. It's hard to fault the production values here.

As to the acting, Isabelle Huppert is very good here. Her character isn't just a floozy, but rather she's clearly got issues with the bourgeois lifestyle that society has decided she needs to not only adapt, but embrace. She may not always make the right decisions, she is human after all, but you can't help but respect her character's rebellious nature, even if it ultimately lands her in less than ideal circumstances. The supporting cast is very strong here as well, but it's Huppert who really steals the show here. If this doesn't wind up being what you ‘expect' from a Chabrol film, that's okay, it's very definitely his work and a very well-made film worth checking out.

Betty (1992):

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 Video:

Each of the five films in Lies And Deceit: Five Films By Claude Chabrol is presented on its own 50GB Blu-ray disc in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed in its original 1.66.1 widescreen aspect ratio. Madame Bovary, Betty and Torment are noted as coming from new 4k restorations and they do look a little nicer than the other two films but the other two films also look quite strong. Detail is good throughout each one of these five presentations, and there are no issues with any compression artifacts or edge enhancement. Colors lean a little dark at times but look quite good overall, with really nice color reproduction and nice, deep black levels. Skin tones look lifelike and accurate and there are no issues with any obvious noise reduction, the transfers always look appropriately film-like.

The Audio:

Cop Au Vin, Inspector Lavardin, Madame Bovary Original and Betty are presented in 24-bit lossless French LPCM mono while Torment gets a 24-bit French language LPCM Stereo track. Each film includes optional English Subtitles. There are no problems to note with the audio, everything sounds clean, clear and nicely balanced. There are no issues with any hiss, distortion or sibilance and each track is quite solid. The subtitles are easy to read and free of any obvious typographical errors.

The Extras:

Extras are spread across the five discs in the set as follows:

Chicken With Vinegar (a.k.a. Cop Au Ain a.k.a. Poulet au Vinaigre, 1985):

A new commentary by critic Ben Sachs starts off the extras and goes into detail on where Chabrol's career was at this point, how the opening sequence of the film feels DePalma-esque, how some of the recurring themes that we see throughout the director's work appear in this one as well, how quite a few of the actors were cast against type, why Chabrol didn't consider himself a psychological filmmaker, the sometimes subtle motivations of some of the characters, the way that seduction is portrayed in the film, how breaking the law is an aphrodisiac with certain characters, the strange sense of community that exists between the characters and more.

The disc also includes twenty-one minutes of select scene commentary from Chabrol who goes over what he's trying to set up during the film's opening sequence, where handheld cameras were used and why, how the person behind the camera in this sequence is acting as well, why certain scenes are presented the way that they are, trying to turn feelings into images, characters using words as weapons and thoughts on the different characters and their actions.

A new interview with film historian Ian Christie, titled appropriately enough, Ian Christie On Claude Chabrol, runs thirteen minutes and sees Christie looking back at an interview he did with Chabrol back in 1994, how the director was unexpectedly very funny, how he came to know and love the director's work, the qualities of his films that he appreciates, Chabrol's willingness to discuss his failures as well as his successes and lots more. The full interview that Christie talks about, Claude Chabrol At The BFI, features the director on stage with Christie for seventy-five minutes and is quite extensive. It covers his beginnings, his work at Cahiers du Cinema, his involvement in the French New Wave movement, how his work evolved from there, some of the people that he collaborated with, how he got into filmmaking the first place, and L'Enfer, which was his most recent film at the time that the interview was recorded.

Up next is an episode of Special Cinema from 1984 with Chabrol, Jean Poiret and Stephane Audran in conversation taken from the archive of the French language Swiss TV series with the director and cast discussing Cop Au Vin for a half an hour. They go over some of his earlier works, how he did or didn't get paid for some of it, where some of the ideas for the movie came from, what the actors tried to bring to their performances, why Chabrol feels entering films into competition is difficult and more.

A theatrical trailer, still gallery and three minute introduction from film scholar Joël Magny finish up the extras on the first disc.

Inspector Lavardin (1986):

A second new commentary by Ben Sachs starts off the extras on disc two. In this piece, he discusses how this film works as a sequel to Cop au Vin, how this film shows the director at his most relaxed and playful without being one of his better movies, Chabrol's sense of humor and how that was a big part of his public persona, the quality of the simple cinematography and editing in some of the film's more important moments, the theme of atheism in Chabrol's films, the use of the Lavardin character in the film, the 'easy' flow of the film and how Chabrol wraps the story up in its finish.

The disc also includes thirty-four minutes of select scene commentary from Chabrol where he talks about why he wanted to make this film, his affection for the Lavardin character who he used previously in Cop au Vin, why he made Lavardin the central character in this picture, the influence of Agatha Christie on the story, some of the subtle character actions we might not notice at first, the importance of toothpaste to a key scene, the details of the family relations portrayed in the film, why certain locations were used, and why specific angles were used in certain scenes.

Why Chabrol?, is a 'short appreciation' from film critic Sam Wigley on why Chabrol remains essential viewing, what makes his style unique and interesting, his importance as a critic before becoming a director, his place in the French New Wave, how his film evolved over the years, what sets his work apart from his Cahiers du Cinema counterparts, why he became known as 'The French Hitchcock,' how he seemed much more commercially driven than someone like Jean-Luc Godard, how large his filmography is, common references and themes explored throughout his movies, some of the regular cast members he liked to work with and how good he was at getting into the mindset of his characters.

A theatrical trailer, still gallery and three minute introduction from film scholar Joël Magny finish up the extras on the second disc.

Madame Bovary:

Kat Ellinger provides a new commentary over Madame Bovary that covers Gustave Flaubert's source material, how the 'heritage' film was in vogue when the movie was made but that most entries in this genre were typically Merchant-Ivory productions, how this was a deeply personal project to Chabrol, the use of shadow in the film, thoughts on the characters in the film, lots of details on the cast and crew that worked on the picture, Chabrol's thoughts on how the critics received the film upon release, the gender politics portrayed the story and the modern twist that the film employs, the concept of 'exposed sin' in the story and more.

The disc once again includes thirty-eight minutes of select scene commentary from Chabrol. In this segment, he goes over wanting to be faithful to the original novel that inspired the film and he then goes on to point out a few of the scenes where he took great care in trying to capture Flaubert's story accurately. He talks about the way that the actors play these scenes and why, themes that recur in the book and the film, details on shooting certain key scenes and why characters are positioned in these scenes, trying to create a sense of vertigo in the dance scene, his thoughts on the set decoration and costuming, where humor is intentionally worked in, the theme of the hopeless romantic in the film, and the specifics of certain characters' names.

Imagining Emma: Madame Bovary On Screen is a new visual essay by film historian Pamela Hutchinson that runs sixteen minutes. This covers the different cinematic adaptations of Flaubert's novel, Chabrol's claims to have been completely faithful to the text, the novel's history and significance, the themes of infidelity and self-delusion that it explores, the different adaptations that have occurred in different forms of media over the years, the different actresses that have played the character over the years, where this different adaptations stay true and deviate from the source, where Flaubert may have found inspiration for the story and the post-modern irony that permeates Chabrol's version.

A theatrical trailer, still gallery and three minute introduction from film scholar Joël Magny finish up the extras on the third disc.

Betty (1992):

Kat Ellinger also provides a new commentary over Betty that discusses how where the director was at here, in the later part of his career, where he made quite a few films that focused on the lives of women and why she finds them to be fascinating. She goes over the subversive elements of how Chabrol explores themes of womanhood, the anti-romance angle that the film takes on, how sex is used in the film in a very unconventional way, Georges Simenon's novel, the co-dependencies of the different characters, Chabrol's use of space in the film, how the film and the book both explore motherhood in different ways, how the character of Betty is invisible to some of the upper class characters in the film, thoughts on the cast and their respective performances, the sexual anarchy of Marie Trintignant's performance and how she takes steps to make sure that she comes out 'triumphant' as the film comes to its close.

The disc once again includes thirty-two minutes of select scene commentary from Chabrol. He speaks about the difficulty of displaying the tension of the lead character in the film, needing to take an entirely visual approach to the material, details on the specifics of the relationship between Betty and her mother and why that relationship is so important to the storyline, why a key scene is set inside an aquarium, how the character of Betty evolves over the course of the film and trying to film the story the way that Simonen wrote it.

Betty, From Simenon To Chabrol is a new visual essay by French Cinema historian Ginette Vincendeau that clocks in at sixteen minutes. Here, we learn about the novel that the film was based on and the story that it tells, the themes that both the book and the film explore, how drinking and sex are recurring themes and portrayed as 'facts of life' in Simenon's work, how Simenon's personal life likely affected the novel, how Chabrol attempted to 'adapt Simenon down to the last comma,' what the film's two female leads bring to the characters, how the film really is a chamber piece in a lot of ways, the physical side of Trintignant's performance and how the film plays three decades after it was originally made.

A new interview with Ros Schwartz, the English translator of the Georges Simenon novel on which the film is based and who appeared on stage with Chabrol when Ian Christie interviewed him in 1994 to aid as a translator, speaks for fifteen minutes about the difficulties of translating books, how slippery language can be, how she got into translating in the first place, her thoughts on Simenon's work and where she feels Simenon and Chabrol are a perfect fit.

Once again, a theatrical trailer, still gallery and three minute introduction from film scholar Joël Magny finish up the extras on fourth first disc.

Torment (L'Enfer, 1994):

New commentary by critics Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Josh Nelson, two Australians who apologize in advance for butchering names before then going on to talk about the film's place in French film history, Henri-Georges Clouzot's place in the picture and what all he was involved in doing (he started shooting it but wasn't able to finish it), how the film deals with toxic masculinity and domestic violence and where that all fits into Chabrol's filmography, the importance of looking at the film as both a Chabrol film and a Clouzot film, where Chabrol changed some of what Clouzot had wanted to do with the film including the use of extensive flashbacks, the similarities that exist between this film and Hitchcock's work, the gender politics inherent in the movie, the politics inherent in the story, the virgin/whore motif inherent in Emmanuelle Béart's character and how Chabrol exploits her looks to make that work, the deliberate use of mirrors in the film, how nothing shown on screen in this picture happens by accident and how the film was received when originally released.

The disc once again includes thirty-nine minutes of select scene commentary from Chabrol. He covers the progression of the story, the way that fantasies are portrayed in the film and where it becomes obvious that some of what we see is not just a harmless home movie but something in François Cluzet's character's mind, why certain shots are framed the way they are, thoughts on the performances, where characters are starting to break down, the way that time 'expands' in the film and the specifics of camera movements used in the film.

Chabrol On Henri Georges Clouzot is an eleven minute archival interview with Chabrol about Clouzot's abandoned attempt to make L'enfer, how he came to take on the project once the script was sent to him, how he and Clouzot were friendly despite his never having worked together before, changes that Chabrol made to the script and the story before taking on his own version of it and why he made those changes, where and why he kept many of Clouzot's ideas in the film including the ending, why he deliberately tried not to borrow ideas from the footage that Clouzot did shoot and how he's sorry Clouzot couldn't make his film but thankful that he was able to make his own version.

An archival interview with Marin Karmitz, Chabrol's most frequent producer from 1985 onward, we learn how he brought Clouzot's work to him once it was obvious it wasn't going to be finished, his earlier work with Godard, how he came to meet and work with Chabrol, working with him as a producer for the first time on Cop au Vin, how much he enjoyed working with Chabrol and why, making films together very freely, what went into promoting his films, Chabrol's insistence on creating good roles for women (which they agreed was rare in French cinema at the time), how he doesn't like films that explain too much, how Chabrol worked out many of his own obsessions in his films and more.

And of course, a theatrical trailer, still gallery and three minute introduction from film scholar Joël Magny finish up the extras on the last disc.

Each of the five discs rests in its own cardboard book-style package that in turn sides inside a sturdy, cardboard, side-loading box, all of which features some really nice original artwork by Tony Stella. Accompanying the five discs is a full-color eight page booklet that features new essays on Chabrol and his work by writing by Martyn Conterio, Kat Ellinger, Philip Kemp and Sam Wigleyas well as some archival material, it's quite impressive.


Arrow Video's boxed set Blu-ray release of Lies And Deceit: Five Films By Claude Chabrol is a very solid selection of some of the director's later films, all offered up in very nice presentations with a strong selection of extras. 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.

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