Claude Chabrol was a hack, but a knowing hack—he was the most prolific of all the major French New Wave directors, making an average of at least one feature film every year from 1958 to 2010. The first year he didn’t make a film was 1979, and Chabrol only missed a handful of years from then on (1981, 1983, 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001 and 2005.) Chabrol’s films were a weird mixture of the more classical French cinema of Jean Renoir and the more mainstream thrills of Alfred Hitchcock.
The films in the set are from Chabrol’s later period in the ’90s. The two Arrow Blu-Ray sets have focused on his ’80s and ’90s work, which is an interesting choice given that his most-loved films were during the ’70s, so it would make more sense to start there and then move on to the later work. Hopefully the third volume will focus on his “Golden Era.”
Unsurprisingly, the best films in the set are the two starring Isabelle Huppert: she plays a con woman in The Swindle and a sociopath in Nightcap. Chabrol and Huppert’s collaborations go way back to 1977’s Violette Nozière, for which she won the Best Actress at Cannes. They have worked on seven films together. Huppert makes his films come to life—she is always captivating, always doing something interesting and, as usual, playing deeply messed up and complicated women.
The Swindle is probably the better film, because it’s the most narratively satisfying, and the dynamic between Michel Serrault and Huppert as the two tricksters is very enjoyable. I even liked the really bizarre fantasy epilogue, which seems to have been divisive.
Nightcap is a more interesting character study, but it really drags, and I simply didn’t care about this family and their bourgeois issues. In that film the French singer and one-time garage rocker Jacques Dutronc plays Huppert’s husband who is a world-known pianist. Dutronc is very good in the role and remains underrated as an actor—check him out in Maurice Pialat’s biopic, Van Gogh. John Waters loves Nightcap, so that’s a ringing endorsement.
The Color of Lies is a small-town mystery in which a young schoolgirl is raped and killed, and everyone suspects the art teacher. It’s a well-acted film and well-shot, but I found it hard to get involved with the characters.
The last film, The Flower of Evil, takes on the tale of a bourgeois family in Bordeaux. When the matriarch decides to run for local office, family drama from the past rears its head, ranging from Nazi collaboration to incest. It’s perfectly fine but a little dull—although the final 15 minutes when everything starts coming out are pretty solid.
The Blu-Ray set from Arrow Videos includes a massive array of special features. Each film includes a brand-new commentary track from critics such as Barry Forshaw and Farran Smith Nehme. There are also selected scenes commentary tracks from Chabrol; introductions from the film scholar Joël Magny for the four films; plenty of archival interviews, and some new interviews with Chabrol’s daughter Cécile (who acted as AD on 14 of his films); appreciations of a couple films by critics, making-of featurettes and much more. You also get a hefty 80-page booklet in the boxset, with tons of writing on the films both old and new.