It’s over forty minutes into Chicken with Vinegar (Poulet au vinaigre, 1985) before Inspector Lavardin (Jean Poiret, The Last Metro) at last makes his cinematic debut, unceremoniously pulling into a gas station to fill up. Although sweet, charming and certainly well-intentioned, Lavardin appears, at first, somewhat pedestrian as far as fictional detectives go—hardly the sort of character an entire collection such as this would be devoted. And then something happens that you’d likely never predict: with his calm, polite veneer still wholly intact, Lavardin nearly kills a man for information about his case. And he does it with a smile and a condescending pat on the victim… er, witness’s back. With that, Lavardin strolled into a movie that by all rights was not his own, and walked out an immediate fan favorite, spawning not only a sequel, but a television series to boot.
What’s more, Chicken with Vinegar, its sequel Inspector Lavardin (1986), and the two TV specials featured in Cohen Film Collection’s The Inspector Lavardin Collection were all directed and at the very least co-written by French New Wave director, Claude Chabrol. Chabrol’s film career began pre-Breathless in 1958 with the Hitchcock-inspired thriller, Le Beau Serge. Until his death in 2010, Chabrol’s career would be dominated by such suspenseful fare, my personal favorites being Le Boucher (1970) and This Man Must Die (Que la bête meure, 1969). And with Chabrol’s The Color of Lies slated for a release from Cohen this May, these are exciting times to be a Chabrol fan indeed!
And boy, does Cohen treat Chabrol right! In my estimation, with the two feature-length Lavardin TV specials Chabrol directed included here as bonus content, that puts this release in the running for best special features of the year, if not best ever! After all, once you’ve finished the two headlining features of this collection you’ll be chomping at the bit as I was for just a little more Lavardin. There’s just something about Lavardin’s approach to these mysteries—his lax morals and blatant disregard for protocol—that makes these pictures so deliciously fun. And that’s to say nothing of the fact that they were also helmed by one of the greatest filmmakers to have ever handled a thriller, as Chabrol’s subtle humor, coupled with the incredible simplicity and lack of pretension in his aesthetic approach gives each mystery an eeriness that goes largely unmatched by even the most garishly-stylized of modern thrillers.
The Inspector Lavardin Collection is available from the Cohen Film Collection, boasting commentary on Chicken with Vinegar and Inspector Lavardin by film critics Wade Major and Andy Klein, as well as an essay by Peter Tonguette in addition to the aforementioned television specials, The Black Snail (1988) and Danger Lies in the Words (1989). The collection is available in both a 2-disc Blu-ray and a 2-DVD version, but Blu-ray is the only way to go here. While the HD transfer may be plagued by some minor imperfections (the limited extent of which is clear in the 2014 re-release trailers), I wouldn’t trade the Blu-rays’ stunning clarity and rich color palette for a thing! The films looks simply spectacular, and from the looks of it, The Color of Lies will too. And I’m just hoping that that won’t be the last Chabrol release we see from Cohen!