Insightful of Claude Chabrol Lies & Deceit
Claude Chabrol Lies & Deceit: The set’s spirit is best reflected by the least substantial film in Lies & Deceit: Five Films by Claude Chabrol, Arrow Video’s tribute to the late, renowned French New Wave director: Nearly everyone in Inspector Lavardin is a deceptive liar, even the amoral police detective himself (played by the equally great, tragically late Jean Poiret).
Raoul Mons (Jacques Dacqmine), the priest whose murder Lavardin intends to solve, is a big time creep; layabout Claude (Jean-Claude Brialy) and his sister Hélène (Bernadette Lafont), Raoul’s widow, both know a little bit more about his death than they let on; Hélène’s daughter, Véronique (Hermine Clair), isn’t as innocent as she acts.
Except for Lavardin’s chaperone, Marcel Vigoroux (Pierre-François Dumeniaud), a police officer in Dinard, where the film is set, everyone is guilty of something. He’s just going about his business. His forthrightness in contrast to Lavardin’s unscrupulous attitude to law enforcement is bitterly comic, just as Inspector Lavardin’s summation of Lies & Deceit’s unifying pattern is bitterly comic.
Chabrol was dubbed “the French Hitchcock” by many. Inspector Lavardin is the most accessible mainstream film of the bunch, adhering to Hitchcockian storytelling principles: Madame Bovary, Betty, Torment, and, of course, Cop au Vin—first Chabrol’s Lavardin film, in which Lavardin plays a supporting role in the ensemble rather than serving as the story’s centerpiece.
Chabrol’s abilities as a filmmaker are demonstrated by the way he flawlessly threads the same theme throughout each of his films, despite their vastly different genres. A pair of rural murder mysteries; a character study of one woman’s inner life and sexuality; a dark paranoiac home thriller; and an adaptation of Gustave Flaubert’s famous novel about marital discontent In several of his films, Chabrol makes it plain who is telling the truth and who is lying.
In others, like as Suffering, he defers to the audience’s judgment, which is a type of torment in and of itself. When we know the truth that the characters in these films deny, we can simply appreciate them as well-crafted entertainment. When we’re forced to guess whether or not there’s a lie in the air, we’re forced to deal with uncertainty.
That’s what distinguishes a film like Torment from a lecture, and it’s also why Inspector Lavardin was described as “a trifle” by Caryn James of the New York Times (but a trifle to savor, as the rest of her review makes clear). It’s a puzzle. Chabrol does not reveal the outcome of the game until the very end.
However, before he makes his climactic disclosure and shines a bright light on deception and chicanery, he makes no effort to hide the fact that Lavardin is surrounded by a gang of liars. Inspector Chabrol emphasizes that everyone is in on or knows of Raoul’s murder to varied degrees, rather than telling the spectator that everyone is a suspect.
It’s all a little too clean, but it’s a lot of fun, far more so than its predecessors, with the exception of Cop au Vin, where Hitchcock’s influence on Chabrol shines through once more. Madame Cuno (Stéphane Audran) plots with her son Louis (Lucas Belvaux) against a trio of shady merchants attempting to bully them into selling their crumbling old house: a lawyer (Michel Bouquet), a doctor (Jean Topart), and a butcher (Jean Topart) (Jean-Claude Bouillaud).
Madame refuses to sell, even persuading Louis to sabotage these guys, resulting in the butcher’s unintentional death and drawing Lavardin’s attention. Although there are fewer lies in Cop au Vin than in Inspector Lavardin, they are significantly more serious—particularly in the case of the good doctor’s lost wife. She is thought to have left him for a lover. The reality is even more bleak.
The lie, on the other hand, is more enticing, and this is the glue that holds the quintet of Lies & Deceit together: While lies are sins, they are also far more satisfying than the truth. Liars would have little motive to lie if they weren’t.
Madame Cuno lies about her disability to keep Louis from leaving her; Emma Bovary (Isabelle Huppert) entertains affairs with rotating men as a cure for malaise; Raoul lies by putting up a righteous moral smokescreen as cover for his perversions; the same-named lead of 1992’s Betty (Marie Trintignant) lies to her husband (Yves Lambrecht) in the pursuit of her own pleasure; Raoul lies by putting up a right In Louis’ friendship with his flirting coworker, Henriette (Pauline Lafont), who continually comes upon him until he succumbs to her attractions, Cop au Vin playsfully dramatizes the cost-benefit of lying. He confesses to her his role in the butcher’s death because to the potent lubricant of sxx. His crime becomes theirs, a dirty little secret hidden between them that only makes them crave each other’s bodies more.
Torment, in which no one is proven to be a liar, contrasts sharply with Cop au Vin, but it is the exception that proves Chabrol’s rule. Paul (François Cluzet) is certain that his lively, well-liked wife Nelly (Emmanuelle Béart) is secretly banging a friend of a friend. He unravels with surprising rapidity throughout the novel, going from dedicated, loving husband to jealous, distrusting, and eventually—perhaps inevitably—violent. We and Paul are denied the satisfaction, the relief, of the truth, unlike in Cop du Vin, Inspector Lavardin, Betty and Madame Bovary, where Chabrol guarantees that his audience is aware of the betrayal even when the betrayed isn’t.
Madame Bovary is bleak, but at least we know the extent of Emma’s crime. We may relish the cruelty and depravity of the Lavardin films since Chabrol’s choice of genre ensures that the guilty will be revealed in due time. Meanwhile, the most flagrant deception he delivers in Torment occurs in the opening credits: Chabrol’s cinematographer, Bernard Zitzermann, lavishly photographs a peaceful lake on a beautiful day, conjuring a sense of calm that is absent throughout the rest of the picture. Chabrol’s obsession with the deception is palpable. It can be found in a lot of his films, from Le Beau Serge to Le Boucher, and it resounds especially loudly in the works included in Lies & Deceit.
Chabrol’s name isn’t as well-known as that of his fellow New Wave filmmakers Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Éric Rohmer, and Jacques Rivette. Perhaps his work’s resemblance to Hitchcock’s has hindered him from achieving the same level of acclaim among cinephiles; whereas Godard pioneered a completely new grammar for filmmaking, Chabrol comfortably leaned into similarities made between his films and those of the Master of Suspense.
To the uninitiated, this could be interpreted as a sign of mediocrity. Chabrol, on the other hand, infuses a cunning sophistication in his films about the nature of truth and the temptation of lying, rewarding perceptive, patient audiences with an understanding into the psychology of deception that even his colleagues lack. Lies & Deceit is an important lesson in the underlying theme of his work for others.