3 Classic Films by Claude Chabrol (Betty, L’Enfer and The Swindle)

| February 21, 2017

While I love many film distributors that release wonderful editions in the home video market, Cohen Media Group has a real place in my heart. While their editions of releases do not contain as many materials as a Criterion Collection release, they still manage put together wonderful film collections from brilliant filmmakers from around the globe. From Alain Resnais to Jean-Luc Goddard, the Cohen Film Collection prides itself as the premier branch of classic films in glorious HD transfers. Now, they’ve released a remarkable collection of the later films of Claude Chabrol, one of the most prolific filmmakers from the French New Wave. This collection contains films from the early 90’s which include Betty (1992), L’Enfer (1994) and The Swindle (1997).

In Betty, we receive a brilliant character study of a woman whose infidelities and alcoholism destroy her life one moment at a time. Betty is played by Marie Trintignant, who offers a monumental performance as the titular character. Immediately, I was stricken by her clothes, her hair, the way she drank whiskey and the way she held her cigarette that just offered so much of her character, even before we get to see her story unfold. Chabrol utilizes every aspect of filmmaking, from shaping Trintignant’s performance, to utilizing subtle camera moves and music cues, to deliver a tale that is devoid of happiness. When offered glimpses into her upbringing and memories of past lovers, Chabrol offers us the capacity to understand Betty, not to enjoy the things she’s done and the havoc she’s placed onto others, but to know who she is as a damaged individual.

L’Enfer, which is based on a script from the great Henri-Georges Clouzot, is a domestic drama that is elevated by Chabrol’s craftsmanship. François Cluzet plays Paul, the owner of a small, countryside hotel who gets married to the beautiful Nelly (Emmanuelle Béart). Their marriage brings them a wonderful boy and a booming business, but soon after, Paul begins to get extremely jealous of Nelly. Whether she’s speaking to a patron of the hotel or offering service in their dining hall, Paul envisions Nelly as an adulterous spouse that knows no bounds. Hearing voices and screaming at his own nightmarish visions of Nelly, he begins to drive himself mad, along with Nelly and everyone around him. While Nelly is beautiful and has a flirtatious nature, we never see her doing anything wrong and yet, but the way that Béart glances, winks, smiles and makes one feel as if she’s up to know good. It’s as if Chabrol directed Béart to cheat on Paul with the audience, to make us understand how she can be the object of desire and drive a man crazy. Under the helm of any other filmmaker, L’Enfer would be another average tale of jealousy and obsession, yet Chabrol makes it a point to offer us enough visual information and careful manipulation via the performances to elevate the film into a memorable affair.

The Swindle, starring Isabelle Huppert and Michel Serrault as an older couple, who make their means as small-time con artists. When they get the chance to bring in the largest score they’ve ever landed, they get involved with gangsters and one another in this wonderful crime caper. Again, in other hands, this would be a typical con/heist film and yet Chabrol manages to elevate it by offering things that aren’t explicit. While Isabelle Huppert is always amazing, the credit should go to the chemistry that both her and he-costar, Michel Serrault as the wonderful Betty and Victor. The key to a great film about confidence men and women is always to keep track of the double crosses and who’s doing what. Chabrol knows this, so he uses the most charming cast that he can and plays them off of each other, as well making the film’s plot as engaging as it can be. The end result is one of the most charming crime films ever made and a true standout in Chabrol’s filmography.

This set may lack the extras and slickness of a boxed set from Criterion and yet Cohen Media Group and their Cohen Film Collection showcase why their films demand to be seen. They manage to procure films that stand on their own, without the needs of flashy menu’s, behind the scene’s documentaries and other extras the cinephiles pour over. I’ve never had the chance to explore the filmography of Claude Chabrol and now, thanks to this set from Cohen Media Group, I can’t get enough. Highly Recommended!

About the Author:

is a graduate from Columbia College Chicago with a degree in Audio for Visual Media. He works as a freelance location sound mixer, boom operator, sound designer, and writer in his native Chicago. He's an avid collector of films, comics, and anime.
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