I remember noting some months ago while looking back fondly on Claude Chabrol’s This Man Must Die (Que la bête meure, 1969) that there was a troubling lack of Chabrol films available on Blu-ray in North America. An integral figure in the cinema of the French New Wave, Chabrol’s minimalistic mysteries owe worlds to the work of Alfred Hitchcock, whose subject matter Chabrol consistently apes. Only he does so with a decidedly more naturalistic approach to both character and narrative. And in this, Chabrol is perhaps more akin to an Eric Rohmer than a Jean-Luc Godard when considered alongside his New Wave brethren. In turn, he tends to be overlooked by many viewers and is, I dare say, rarely if ever taught in your average introductory or world film course as Godard most often is. What’s worse, Chabrol is largely neglected by distributors as well. Godard films are available by the truckload and Francois Truffaut and Rohmer both have their box sets on the Criterion Collection. But Chabrol releases have been few, far between, and never in bulk… until recently that is.
Sure, Criterion put out a pair of Chabrol Blu-rays back in 2011 and that was great, but after that we Chabrol fans were left to twiddle our thumbs as we waited hopefully for another smattering of the French master’s films to be released. And then it happened! Over the course of the last two months, the Cohen Film Collection has treated us with five Chabrol features on Blu-ray. First came The Inspector Lavardin Collection in April, which collected two theatrical releases and two made-for-TV movies centered on the fascinating character of traveling police inspector Jean Lavardin. And May 27, 2014 sees the release of yet another Chabrol feature to Blu-ray from Cohen: The Color of Lies (Au coeur du mensonge, 1999).
If you couldn’t tell by the preceding text, I’m a bit of a fan of Chabrol’s work, having never seen a picture by the man I didn’t like. In fact, This Man Must Die is among my personal favorite films, and I dare say The Color of Lies is easily on par with that picture. The Color of Lies follows husband and wife, René and Vivianne Stern, throughout the course of a murder investigation in which René has been incriminated. He teaches drawing to local youths out of their home while she’s away at work and in the opening of the film, one of his students, a 10-year-old girl, is raped and murdered on her way home from her drawing lesson. Though the police have no evidence linking him to the crime, neither we nor even Vivianne know for sure whether René is truly innocent. And the resultant fallout of the investigation strains both René’s sanity and his marriage to Vivianne.
What makes The Color of Lies a standout picture for Chabrol is that he uses the mystery format of the narrative to explore René and Vivianne’s marriage first, and weave a mystery second. Every revelation in the case and every character’s actions are that much more powerful as result, allowing us to invest in the mystery far more than we might have if it were told entirely from the investigator’s perspective. Furthermore, focusing on the characters over the mystery allows The Color of Lies to be rewatchable even after we find out whodunit—in a way that’s not entirely dissimilar from This Man Must Die. Add onto that a powerful, thematic condemnation of the culture of lies that our society perpetuates, and you have yourself one hell of an emotional and thought-provoking mystery.
What’s more, Cohen’s release of The Color of Lies on Blu-ray offers a beautiful, 2K transfer that is all-but free of speckling while maintaining a rich film grain. The only (relatively) major issue I noticed was a bit of timing fluctuation in one shot about halfway through the picture, but this was likely a fault in the print from which the release was sourced or even the negative, not the transfer itself. Wade Major and Andy Klein, who provided commentary on the central pair of Lavardin films, return here with another commentary track. Apart from that, though, bonus content is limited to the theatrical rerelease trailer. But don’t let the thin special features deter you from picking up The Color of Lies. The films stands plenty strong on its own.