The Films (BETTY 3/5, TORMET/ L’ENFER 5/5, THE SWINDLE 5/5)
Known as the “French Hitchcock” or the “Balzac of Cinema”, Claude Chabrol is one of the most thrilling, yet obscure, of French filmmakers. Starting out as a film critic for the famous French Magazine, Cahiers du Cinema, Chabrol became the first of critics to start the French New Wave (Nouvelle Vague), with his 1958 drama, LE BEAU SERGE. With time, Chabrol became a lesser known of the New Wave directors because, he aimed at the mainstream style of cinema and for his cold formula of slow burn thrillers. Filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut were breaking all the rules of French cinema, While Chabrol made a formula and perfected it with each new film. Chabrol was diverse, but his main plot would be a damning drama of the French bourgeoisie lifestyle, before turning into a dark thriller in the third act. Until his death in 2010, Chabrol was a movie making machine who revived many classic French pulp stories and added his unique twist to the legacies of Fritz Lang and Alfred Hitchcock. The good folks at Cohen have re-released three of Chabrol’s later classics from the 1990’s.
BETTY (1992), tells the story of a young woman named Betty (Marie Trintignant), who suffers from a dark past, and alcoholism. While on another drinking binge, she has another affair on her husband and almost sleeps with a drugged-out doctor. Luckily, she is saved by a strange rich woman named Laure (Stephane Audran), who takes of her while she has a cold. While recovering in a Hotel room, Betty tells the story of her tragic past.
BETTY is one of Chabrol’s darker movies, with a main character who is beyond help. The non-linear story of Betty and her drunken excess is truly one of the bleakest and saddest films around. While the set design, art direction, and camerawork are all aces, something is truly lacking with this film overall. The acting is fine, but some of the characters, like Chabrol’s former wife, Stephane Audran (LE BOUCHER, LES BICHES) are paper thin and we don’t get a chance to understand them. Audran does get a chance to show off her icy stare. Miss Trintignant (WINGS OF FAME)’s acting is layered and sad, but her motivation is lacking on all fronts. The movie’s biggest highlight is the bizarre editing choices, that keeps this thinly plotted movie pushing along.
L’ENFER (1994, aka TORMENT, HELL) tells the story of a hotel owner named Paul (Francois Cluzet) and his wife Nelly (Emmanuelle Beart), whose summer is suddenly full of doubt. Paul is slowly becoming obsessed with the idea that his wife is cheating on him. As the paranoia kicks in things turn ugly for the young couple.
L’ENFER is a remake/update of the infamous unfinished film by Henri- Georges Clouzot called INFERNO (1964). The 1964 film was finally reconstructed for the semi documentary INFERNO (2009) by Serge Bromberg. So, while the original film is not half way out there, it’s interesting to see how Chabrol handled this different styled film. While lacking some of the more fantastic elements of the Clouzot version, this 1994 film is a true mini masterpiece of slow burn suspense.
From the chilling opening credits to the wild last third, L’ENFER is a masterclass of crippling paranoia and fury passion. Francois Cluzet (LITTLE WHITE LIES) gives a layered performance as the troubled Paul. His slow decent into madness is one of cinema’s most haunting. One signature set piece has the whole hotel facing a black out during a rain storm. As Nelly lights candles for the guests, Paul sits by and frame by frame, you can see the dread and anger boiling over. Emmanuelle Beart (MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, MANON OF THE SPRING) is one of France’s powerhouse beauties. Here miss Beart is essentially delivering two unique and daring performances as the whore and virgin angel. Every shot of her is simply stunning.
THE SWINDLE (1997), tells the story of Betty and Victor (Isabelle Huppert and Michel Serrault) who are small time Con artists. There newest con job however, may lead to their downfall.
Unlike the other two films in this set, THE SWINDLE is an almost light hearted affair. This works in the film’s favor, as the whole production is full of fun wit, comedy, and adventure. The heart of the film is the odd but loveable relationship between the two con artists, which is never clearly spelled out as a family or love affair. Isabelle Huppert (LOULOU, NIGHTCAP) turns in a fantastic and subtle performance as Betty. Every gesture and look adds to her character. Michel Serrault (LA CAGE AUX FOLLES) is deeply funny as the older but not wiser Victor. In a smaller role is, Francois Cluzet as the man there conning. He is only in a few scenes, but Cluzet spices up the film with some small dark wit. As for the rest of the movie, every scene mixes into the other and gives us the perfect Saturday movie watching experience. The film is complex, but I won’t spoil the details here. By far one of Chabrol’s most enjoyable films.
All three films come with a French LPCM 2.0 Channel language track. The sound mix is top notch with no issues. No hiss or pops. The soundtracks to each film, are full of live and the few scenes with pop music playing are vinyl like in their richness. Easy to read, white text, English subtitles are included.
All three films simply look fantastic with the 1080p HD transfer. The standout of the set is L’ENFER, with its rich textures and creamy blues. Every frame could be a painting. The weakest of the three is BETTY, which has some minor soft spots. The black levels are smooth and every shot is full of razor sharp detail. By far one of Cohen’s most impressive releases.
The extra features are spread out over the three Blu-ray discs. On Disc 1, we get the re-release trailer for BETTY. Disc 2, starts off with a highly enjoyable commentary on L’ ENFER, by film critics Wade Major and Andy Klein. The track is packed with trivia on Chabrol, the cast, and the original source material for the film. Rounding out the disc is a re-release trailer for the film. Disc 3 is the most packed with extras. First off is another commentary by Wade Major and Andy Klein. This track is a little slower in parts, with the two men seeming to be caught up in the movie, but overall is fantastic. Next up is a 40-mintute interview with actor Francois Cruzet, hosted by Kent Jones in French with English subtitles. The interview is full of stories of Chabrol, and Cruzet’s career up until his most current works. Finishing off the disc is the re-release trailer. In the Blu-ray package, itself, is the usual Cohen production still booklet with cast info.
The good people at Cohen have released another class act Blu-ray with two Chabrol masterpieces. Highly Recommended.