Friday, October 21, 2005

Cop au vin

1985, France, directed by Claude Chabrol (original title: Poulet au vinaigre)

Despite the film's origin, there's something very English about Poulet au vinaigre: it plays like an especially well-wrought English television mystery, so it's no surprise to discover that Inspector Lavardin's adventures later transitioned to the small screen, nor that Chabrol turned to source material like Ruth Rendell's A Judgement in Stone several years later (that novel was filmed, with great force, as La Cérémonie). Like a P.D. James adaptation, the players are given plenty of time to implicate themselves in all kinds of wickedness before Lavardin (Jean Poiret) turns up to unveil the mysteries (indeed, the film is half over before Lavardin makes much of an impression; in other circumstances that might be a shame, but Chabrol has such an acute eye for small-town foibles that you barely notice his absence).

Like any good English mystery, but unlike the average French policier, except those of Chabrol himself, class is front and centre here, with postman Lucas Belvaux and his mother (a thoroughly de-glamorised Stéphane Audran) fighting off a trio of rapacious property developers (though that's but one strand in the film). While no-one emerges entirely unscathed, Chabrol has an unswerving affection for the little man - allowing a certain measure of poetic, if not literal, justice to come his way. Jean Poiret is best known as a comic actor, but Chabrol's casting was a smart move: like Hitchcock with Cary Grant or James Stewart, Chabrol understands how unsettling it is to see an apparently mild-mannered individual suddenly behave forcefully, even violently. It's not one of the director's most acid films, but Chabrol doesn't do frothy, and there's an air of menace at the most unexpected moments.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States