This is a solid collection from Arrow Video, with Cop Au Vin and Inspector Lavardin being the highlights.
Cop Au Vin (1985) Plot:
A detective visits a small town after a prominent citizen is killed in a car crash, but instead of uncovering a single mystery, he uncovers several.
A young man working for the postal service – a lad named Louis (Lucas Belvaux) – considers himself deeply obligated to his wheelchair-bound mother (Stephane Audran) who has long been in the dregs since her husband passed away more than a decade previously. Together, they find themselves in a tricky situation when several land developers in the area forcefully make it clear that they want the small piece of land their humble home lies on, but being stubborn about it, they refuse all offers and eventually face the very real and dreadful possibility that they could be evicted and thrown out with nothing for being so stubborn. As revenge, Louis illegally brings home the mail addressed to those who are trying to kick them out of their home, and together with his mother, they scheme and plot a way to gather as much dirt on their enemies as they can, waiting for the perfect time to strike back. When a wealthy woman in town – a mistress to one of those men trying to kick Louis and his mother out – is found killed and burned to death in a car wreck just outside of town – Louis simultaneously sabotages another of the men’s gas tank, which leads to the man’s death in a car accident, which is soon deemed a murder. A detective from out of town, a seemingly innocuous inspector named Lavardine (Jean Poiret), soon comes around asking questions, inevitably uncovering a whole slew of suspects for the two deaths, and when he realizes that the wealthiest men in town were after the land owned by Louis and his mother, his first suspect is indeed Louis himself. As the inspector reveals himself to be quite cunning and ruthless (a brutal and shocking beating of a suspect isn’t out of the question for him), he quickly uncovers a slew of ill deeds, murders, and motives for the sleepy town where a young postman seems to be at the center of some very serious allegations.
For close to an hour, Cop Au Vin creeps up on you before becoming a police procedural, but by the time it gets there, all of the characters have been well established and laid out in a cozy roadmap where there are underdogs, villains, and those caught in the middle. The detective character isn’t even introduced for more than half the film, and he’s kind of a softer spoken, more French version of Columbo. The movie moves in a certain direction (not always forward, but sometimes sideways and bilaterally) but it ends up in a satisfying place. Director Claude Chabrol seems to really understand these characters and gives viewers a glance at the doldrums of desperate characters who take their chances with crime and don’t always get away with it.
Inspector Lavardin (1986) Plot:
The murder of an art critic in a small town heralds the arrival of a savvy detective, who uncovers more than anyone bargained for.
A small, coastal town whose morally superior art critic is found naked and stabbed to death on the beach finds itself at the center of a murder investigation when Inspector Lavardin (Jean Poiret) comes around asking questions. His first stop is the critic’s home, where he is stunned to find the widow Helene (Bernadette Lafont) is an old acquaintance and lover of his. Not having seen each other in about 20 years, Lavardin is invited to stay at the victim’s home as a guest of honor while he does his investigating, and having carte blanche and access to the victim’s things while being lodged at the home, Lavardin very quickly gathers unto himself a plethora of clues as to the victim’s secrets and private things. He surmises that the holier-than-thou man was actually a closeted hedonist and drug user, whose secret life only a select few in the small community were privy to. He rented an apartment across town from a nightclub owner, a man whose place of business is a haven of drugs and sex trafficking, and the victim had a revolving door of young sex partners whose encounters in his apartments he would secretly videotape. Helene had no idea (or did she?) that her husband was so immersed in a life of depravity, and her 13-year old daughter seems to have been involved in at least some part of her stepfather’s illegal activities, or perhaps she’s being used in some kind of plot that could reveal some long-held secrets that Helene’s homosexual brother has been keeping. As Lavardine investigates, he uncovers more than one set of worms hiding under rocks long held stable until his savvy, crime-smelling nose leads him to some uncomfortable truths.
A smart, easy-to-follow, but always engaging murder mystery, Inspector Lavardin is a proper sequel to Cop Au Vin, with a returning Poiret in the title role. Director Claude Chabrol seems to be having a lot of fun with this material, even more so this time than before, with a bit of levity and conviction to the material. The supporting cast is solid, and the twists and turns keep coming, even at a lackadaisical pace. Poiret and Chabrol teamed up for more Lavardin mysteries some years later, but for television.
Betty (1992) Plot:
An alcoholic woman spirals until she’s “rescued” and made a project of by a wealthy woman who seems to think she can rehabilitate her.
After losing her children in a custody dispute that is meant to give her enough money to live off of for years to come, Betty (Marie Trintignant) spirals into an unending, uncaring stream of alcoholism and promiscuity with strangers and creeps. She’s liable to find herself dead or worse at the hands of the dangerous strangers she sleeps with (sometimes she almost seems clueless and oblivious as to what’s happening to her), which is where she finds herself when she is picked up by a man at a bar one rainy evening. The man, she assumes, is a doctor (he isn’t), and when he takes her to a very upscale restaurant miles from where he picked her up, she is redirected by another man who informs her that the guy who brought her there is a druggie and a drug dealer. She doesn’t care, and when she passes out drunk after consuming an exorbitant amount of booze, she later wakes up in a swanky hotel room and informed by a rich woman named Laure (Stephane Audran) that she’s going to take care of her for awhile because she sees something in her worth saving. Over the course of some days (or weeks), Betty spends her days and nights eating, drinking, and smoking cigarettes in bed, listening to Laure’s advice, but in return, Betty relates her life story and relates that she’s been living an amoral, unhappy life, resulting in the loss of her children, who will likely never see her again. As thanks for everything Laure does for her, Betty makes a move on Laure’s boyfriend in a stroke of uncaring cruelty towards her, and elopes with the man, which is a defining moment for Laure, who realizes that she’s been had.
A fascinating, if slow moving, drama about a completely self-absorbed woman who wracks up an incredible amount of collateral damage in her life with her behavior, Betty offers a strong and memorable performance by star Trintignant, who sadly passed away at a relatively young age at 41. She totally and completely inhabits this character in every way, shape, and form, and while she’s not an especially sympathetic character, she’s quite simply captures your attention every second she’s on screen. Director Claude Chabrol treats the novel source material with an out-of-sequence approach, and the results are impressive.
Madam Bovary (1991) Plot:
A dissatisfied woman married to a doctor has affairs and accrues a large debt, which culminates in a grand tragedy.
A country doctor named Charles Bovary (Jean-Francois Balmer) with limited skill marries a young, reasonably attractive farmer’s daughter named Emma (Isabelle Huppert). Charles loves her very much, but Emma desires wealth and status, which her husband is only able to give her in limited measure. They have a child, and for the next few years they live within their means, but when she attends a ball she buys an extravagant dress on credit, which is the beginning of her credit woes. At the ball, she meets a handsome man who woes her and they are soon having a rapturous affair in secret. Over time, the affair is broken off, and Emma plunges into depression. Meanwhile, she spends more and more money on credit on things to make her home seem more fashionable, which makes her beholden to a wily creditor who continues to take advantage of her, unbeknownst to her clueless husband. Her husband Charles proves himself to be an incompetent doctor on more than one occasion, which tarnishes their name and social standing, putting Emma in a position to hate and despise her husband. She takes on another lover, a much younger man whom Emma sweeps off his feet rather than the other way around, all while under her husband’s unsuspecting gaze. With a mounting debt she can’t ever possibly pay looming over her, Emma loses her footing of control and deception when debtors come calling for everything she owes all at once, which puts her in a rapidly spiraling descent into a frantic dash to visit her former lovers for help, but finding no help or solace she is left with only her panic and desperation. In a last dash attempt to correct her wrongs, she turns her terrible choices in life inward and makes a fateful decision.
Claude Chabrol’s adaptation of Madam Bovary (one of the most famous French novels ever written) is quite a long film at 143 minutes, and it takes its sweet time to tell a pretty basic story of a deeply unhappy, uninteresting woman. So much time is devoted to capturing this character’s dull, uneventful, unhappy life you eventually begin to wonder why anyone would bother to try caring. Huppert’s performance is committed and crafted, but there’s just so little to this character’s arc that it’s a wonder how the novel and its adaptations have endured. Perhaps she speaks for a lot of women: How am I to know? Chabrol treats the material with some nuance and languid reserve, but perhaps he was better at more modern takes on the subject, as he was with the reasonably similar film he did called Betty, which came a few years later.
Torment (L’Enfer) (1994) Plot:
A couple’s marriage is destroyed by the husband, who’s deteriorating mental state and consistent jealousy becomes the sole preoccupation for them both.
Paul (Francois Cluzet) marries beautiful Nelly (Emmanuel Beart), and for a handful of years they have a happy marriage. They run a small resort hotel with a loyal client base, and they raise a son in complete simpatico. But something abstract causes Paul to become jealous of his wife: He senses that she’s lying to him about little things like buying a purse and spending more money than she says, or not actually visiting her sick mother in town like she explains, but is rather being promiscuous. He follows her and he’s not quite able to explain himself when she realizes her husband is following her and has become jealous and possessive over her. His imagination (we hear his thoughts) ramble on and drum up imaginary indiscretions, and over the course of some months (perhaps a year), his behavior becomes erratic and dangerous as he lords over her life and begins to destroy their marriage. Not only that, but their business suffers a great deal as Paul’s behavior towards guest turns vicious and suspicious as he accuses some of them of sleeping with his wife. With unfound claims of indiscretion against her, Nelly’s faith and love in her husband is crushed and demolished as her husband is clearly going insane, and when she finally has had enough of his abuse and emotional battering, she finds that it is perhaps too late to escape the marriage …
At times overly trumped up and magnified by a cinematic microscope that draws attention to its conflict a little conveniently rather than naturally, Torment is a flawed drama that tries examining a hellish situation, but it resembles a horror film more than a drama at times. Claude Chabrol’s direction is not exactly nuanced here, but the material as written on the page and acted doesn’t really afford viewers the opportunity to ever feel comfortable in its simulations. The film feels very much rehearsed, directed, and controlled, much like some of its characters find themselves imprisoned in their own personal hells. This isn’t an especially “honest” movie in that its engines start firing and speeding down a track too soon to feel justified or earned. I appreciated it to some degree for saying and behaving as it does, but it’s far from an accomplished piece of work, and Chabrol has done much better.
- LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
- High definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentations of all five films
- New 4K restorations of Madame Bovary, Betty, and Torment
- Original lossless French PCM mono audio on Cop Au Vin, Inspector Lavardin, Madame Bovary and Betty
- Original lossless French PCM stereo audio on Torment
- Optional English Subtitles
- Archive introductions to all films by film scholar Joël Magny
- Select scene commentaries for all films by Claude Chabrol
- Theatrical trailers and image galleries for all films
- 80-page collector’s booklet of new writing by film critics Martyn Conterio, Kat Ellinger, Philip Kemp and Sam Wigley, and archive material
- Limited edition packaging with newly commissioned artwork by Tony Stella
- DISC 1: COP AU VIN
- New commentary by critic Ben Sachs
- New interview with film historian Ian Christie
- Claude Chabrol at the BFI, Chabrol on stage with film historian Ian Christie in 1994
- Claude Chabrol, Jean Poiret & Stephane Audran in conversation, archive Swiss TV episode with director and cast discussing Cop Au Vin
- DISC 2: INSPECTOR LAVARDIN
- New commentary by critic Ben Sachs
- Why Chabrol?, new interview with film critic Sam Wigley on why Chabrol remains essential viewing
- DISC 3: MADAME BOVARY
- New commentary by critic Kat Ellinger
- Imagining Emma: Madame Bovary on screen, new visual essay by film historian Pamela Hutchinson
- DISC 4: BETTY
- New commentary by critic Kat Ellinger
- Betty, from Simenon to Chabrol, new visual essay by French Cinema historian Ginette Vincendeau
- New interview with Ros Schwartz, the English translator of the Georges Simenon novel on which the film is based
- DISC 5: TORMENT
- New commentary by critics Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Josh Nelson
- On Henri Georges Clouzot, archival interview with Chabrol about, Clouzot’s abandoned attempt to make L’enfer
- Interview with Marin Karmitz, archive interview with Chabrol’s most frequent producer from 1985 onward