Drip, drip, drip.
Slowly, ever so slowly, the prodigious film catalog of French new wave film pioneer Claude Chabrol (Les Cousins) makes its way to English speaking audiences. This latest triple-feature release dips into the esteemed auteur’s later period:
Elegantly appointed in an off-white power suit and high heels, an exotically pretty young woman strides purposefully down a busy Parisian boulevard. Upon closer inspection, the woman appears disheveled, with fly-away hair and bags under her eyes. She totters slightly as she enters a corner bar, where she drinks for several hours, before exiting with a stranger who won’t tell her where they’re going: only that it’s far away and somewhere he’s been quite often. Who exactly is this woman and what has she gotten herself into? Betty spends the rest of its time answering these questions, while simultaneously exploring what’s ahead for the enigmatic title character, masterfully played by Marie Trintignant (Ponette).
TORMENT (L’Enfer) (1994)
Paul (François Cluzet, Chocolat) seems to have it all: a thriving, sumptuous hotel, which he owns and operates in the south of France, and a gorgeous young wife named Nelly (Emmanuelle Beart, Date With An Angel), who plainly adores him. Or does she? Suspicions of infidelities initially rob Paul of sleep and eventually plague his every waking moment. Though you’d never guess it by the thoroughly contemporary look and feel Chabrol gives it here, Torment’s tale has a long and storied past. The original screenplay came from master French film maker Henri-Georges Clouzot (Diabolique), taking inspiration from Dante’s Divine Comedy, written in the fourteenth century. Clouzot actually began making the film in 1964, but was forced to abandon the project before completion. Junk-culture fed baby boomer that I am, I immediately assumed that this was a cinematic enactment of the situation presented by the lyrics of Dr. Hook’s 1979 hit single “When You’re In Love With A Beautiful Woman.” Regardless of your reference point, this one will have you hollering at the screen in an attempt to prevent the madness from progressing.
THE SWINDLE (1997)
Victor (Michel Serrault, La Cage aux Folles) and Elizabeth (Isabelle Huppert, Elle) are small-stakes con artists, keeping the wolf at their door by robbing traveling businessmen of their pocket money. The stakes are raised considerably when Elizabeth uses her estimable feminine wiles to attract Maurice Biagini (François Cluzet), the treasurer of a multinational company, who’s traveling with five million Swiss francs in a suitcase hand-cuffed to his wrist. Though it easily qualifies as this set’s most conventional narrative, The Swindle is also the most deceptive, easily luring the viewer into what becomes the equivalent of a Chinese finger puzzle, as tension steadily increases.
I don’t know why I go to extremes. Too high or too low; there ain’t no in-between.–Billy Joel
If I were looking for a unifying thread to tie these 3 Classic Films By Claude Chabrol together, I’d go with self-destruction, inevitably as the result of extreme behavior. Of course, self-destruction—except in the case of a hermit, I suppose–always takes a toll not only on the perpetrator, but those around him, whether they’re loved ones or in some cases, merely too close in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Beyond that, I won’t go into specifics. Better that first-time viewers experience these films as I did, thoroughly unaware of what’s coming. If you’re knowing only that nobody made France look as mouth-wateringly delicious as Chabrol and that—appearances to the contrary—his films traffic in the darkness of souls, the ugliness of personal motivations and the carnal appetites of the morally bereft. Imagine a delicious Crème brûlée with a scorpion’s nest at its center and you have prime Chabrol–impeccably seasoned with wit, charm and A-list actors, perfectly suited to their tasks.
Cohen Media brings the aptly-titled 3 Classic Films By Claude Chabrol to Blu-ray in a neat little package, with each feature getting an aesthetically pleasing 1.66:1/1080p transfer and LPCM 2.0 linear audio tracks; all in the original French, with English subtitles. In terms of add-ons, Betty has the least (with just a re-release trailer for accompaniment), while The Swindle has the most, with a new forty minute interview with actor Cluzet, and a feature length audio commentary track by critics Wade Major and Andy Klein, in addition to its own re-release trailer. Torment splits the difference, with an audio commentary track (also provided by Major and Klein) and yes, the re-release trailer added. The set also comes with a colorful, eight page booklet with pictures and primary credits for each feature.
These are neither the most famous nor the most celebrated of Claude Chabrol’s films, but they’re certainly nothing to sniff at, and indeed may be more easily accessible to contemporary American audiences than the aforementioned. Snap up this bargain pack before it gets away.