sun 07/08/2022

Blu-ray: Twisting the Knife - Four Films by Claude Chabrol | reviews, news & interviews

Blu-ray: Twisting the Knife - Four Films by Claude Chabrol

Blu-ray: Twisting the Knife - Four Films by Claude Chabrol

Miasmic guilt as a French master skewers the bourgeoisie

Grifting: Betty (Isabelle Huppert) at work

Nouvelle Vague directors have grown to seem more diverse than bonded, a golden generation linked by extreme cinephilia and the mutually supportive main chance. Godard endures at one extreme, pushing the movement’s implications to their terminus, collaging gnomic capitalist critiques holed up in Swiss self-exile, still fiercely repulsing acceptance.

Claude Chabrol lasted almost as long making chilly thrillers beloved by the French public but distrusted by the academy, steeped in Lang and Hitchcock, but most of all Georges Simenon. He was similarly prolific and accepting of human nature, finding creeping poisons in damaged souls. His last film, Bellamy (2011), with Depardieu as a holidaying police inspector idly investigating a rustic crime before a final, blindsiding emotional blow, might as well be a Maigret, and still awaits UK release.Chabrol Blu-ray coverThese four late Chabrols were made between 1997 and 2002, in the wake of the success of La Cérémonie (1995), with Isabelle Huppert and Sandrine Bonnaire as the maid murderers of Jacqueline Bisset’s bourgeois family. The Swindle (Rien ne va plus) is atypical, a dryly screwball crime comedy in which small-time grifters Betty (Huppert) and Maurice (Michel Serrault, pictured below with Huppert) leave honey-trapped, drugged businessmen’s wallets subtly lighter, only for Betty’s ambitions to lure them out of their depth. Chabrol helped Truffaut interview Hitchcock on the set of To Catch A Thief, and that film’s bright colours, jet-set glamour and coolly sexy wit are mixed with the dismal reality of business hotel bars. Huppert is having fun, strolling down the beach in a black dress and shades, and coolly mopping blood from her razored neck. Serrault is an older, almost boorishly bullish glutton, based on Chabrol. The japes sour in colonial Guadeloupe, where the camera prowls over a sink to a tortured body in a bath, and Huppert turns in a silent scream and rushes down white stairs, as a villain plays Tosca, and cries crocodile tears.

In an Extras interview, Huppert, who became Chabrol’s latter-day muse over seven films, two of them here, explains his seemingly unlikely claim that this amuse-bouche was his “most autobiographical film”. It’s “a film about cinema…actors and filmmakers,” she argues. “More profound than it looks…” The crooked pair, indulged by Chabrol with unusual fondness, romanticise his and Huppert’s partnership. Chabrol’s commentary, grinning boggle-eyed to camera with roguish delight, reveals backgrounds composed as carefully as foregrounds, stuffed with overlooked secrets.Isabelle Huppert and Michel Serrault in The SwindleThe Color of Lies (Au cœur du mensonge) follows the inexorable aftermath of a young girl’s rape and murder in a fogbound Breton village, soon after leaving art teacher René (Jacques Gamblin, pictured below). He has flinched from painting since the trauma of a terrorist bomb which makes one leg drag. Sinking further, and looking guilty under pressure, his crumpled raincoat recalls fatalistic Thirties French noir, the fog that which enveloped Port of Shadows (Le Quai des brumes). There’s a febrile dance of gossip around him in the local bar, and a miasma of suspicion in the provincial streets. But this isn’t The Hunt, as his insular community give the benefit of the doubt, the dead child is forgotten, and detective Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s sadly smiling, dogged pursuit seems worse than the crime. René’s devoted wife Viviane (Sandrine Bonnaire), seeking relief, is seduced by Antoine des Caunes’ cheerfully slimy local celebrity, and the iron clamp round René’s skull squeezes tighter. “I’m in a tunnel,” he cries when she returns from her botched affair. “When you’re away, I no longer exist.” This is a film of unseen, lunging acts, tragic misdirection and desolate romance, with a vortex’s remorseless pull. Sins are excused by circumstance, as the survivors stagger on.Jacques Gamblin in The Color of LiesNightcap (Merci pour le chocolat) is classic Chabrol, and Huppert. The director’s latest bourgeois skewering begins with gossip at the wedding of star pianist André (French rock star Jacques Dutronc) to second wife Mika (Huppert). The parallel revelation elsewhere that teenage pianist Jeanne (Anna Mouglalis) was almost swapped for André’s son at birth sends her blithely skipping into her idol’s seemingly enviable life. There’s a sensual, rippling piano exchange between André and his almost daughter, more defeat than murder in his son’s eyes. André’s hand twists tellingly behind his back as he recalls his first wife, killed in a car crash and oedipally resembling Jeanne. The secrets behind Mika’s blandly polite, fugue-like façade can hardly be fathomed, till plot veils part in flashback. Huppert found her character in unnaturally even speech patterns, an off-kilter veneer. She ruffles André’s hair as she confesses her crimes, and nihilistic despair as an impostor in his rarefied world. Chabrol keeps a satiric, acidic edge to this class tragedy, as Huppert mesmerises, part snake, part mouse. Dutronc is meanwhile hilarious in the Extras, all shades and chomped cigars as he terrifies a young interviewer with raddled rocker charisma. You marvel he’s still alive.Benoît Magimel and Mélanie Doutey in The Flower of EvilThe Flower of Evil begins with a tracking shot past bloodstained leaves into a corpse-strewn mansion, related in some way to the incestuous machinations of two entwined small-town dynasties. The incest is almost literal in the affair between two close, hotly attracted cousins (Benoît Magimel and Mélanie Doutey, pictured above), and Chabrol enjoys the provincial perversity, as murder intrudes on a mayoral race. Extras greatly deepen understanding of the film’s Vichy ghosts, an era of “secrets that everyone knows”, but it’s the most conventional, least cutting work here.

New interviews with Chabrol’s often related, tight crew of collaborators add to this set’s value, step-daughter Cecile Maistre-Chabrol revealing how his films were “all in his head” on “democratic”, familial sets. He made 58 features and 45 TV films. “All he cared about is shooting. Shoot, shoot, shoot.”

This is a film of unseen, lunging acts, with a vortex’s remorseless pull

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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