Written by: John White on May 14th, 2006
Theatrical Release Date: France, 1999
Director: Claude Chabrol
Writers: Claude Chabrol, Odile Barski
Cast: Sandrine Bonnaire, Jacques Gamblin, Antoine De Caunes, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi
DVD released: August 2nd, 2005
Approximate running time: 113 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.62:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo French
DVD Release: Kino / MK2
Region Coding: Region 0 NTSC
Retail Price: $24.95
Synopsis: Eloise, a young pupil of Rene, a washed up artist, is raped and strangled after leaving his house. The police in the shape of Inspector Lesage are suspicious of Rene and rumors start to circulate that he is responsible. Meanwhile his wife, Vivianne, becomes involved with local celebrity and all round media whore Desmot. With the suspicion of the local community and the lies of his wife Rene starts to crack up. When he discovers that both Desmot and his wife are away he paints what he imagines has happened. Desmot is invited around for dinner and gets very drunk, Rene takes him home but the next morning Desmot is found dead. Again Rene is suspected by Lesage but the help of a local gossip and an adventurous teenager lead Lesage to the murderer of Eloise even if Desmot’s end remains unsolved.
Au coeur du mensonge was a slight step in the dark for Chabrol. It involved central actors he had not worked with before with the exception of Bonnaire and it retained a central element of whodunit. Typically though, Chabrol establishes the point of the tale as being about gossip, untruths, the media and community. The central efficient sleuth, Lesage, is not all she seems and chases Rene ignoring the suggestions of her lieutenant and a young kid whom she disparagingly calls “Hercuile”, she also learns that her babysitter is involved in poor company that puts her own child in the midst of murder and theft. This is not a procedural despite the eventual twin reveals of the culprit.
As is often the case with Chabrol there is one character whom the audience is almost invited to loathe. Desmot, brilliantly played by Antoine de Caunes, is a journalist who writes in left and right wing papers and gossip magazines and is admired by the local community because of his celebrity. He chases the women of the town flattering them with his plagiarized quotes and succeeds in seducing Vivianne at least in notion. He neglects his family, whores around and uses his own behavior for his poor novels. Like Paul Decourt in The Beast Must Die and Gerard in Flower of Evil, Desmot’s death is inevitable and the ultimate irony is that his death is ruled natural despite the reality.
Lies populate throughout in this movie and appearances are wholly deceptive. Characters talk about the necessity of lying and everyone obscures, obfuscates and tell untruths. Vivianne lies about Desmot, Rene lies about Desmot, the lieutenant lies about Rene, and the gossips hide their own guilt in untruths about others. This lying is mirrored by misrepresentation on other levels too, adverts on television sell products with incredible claims and the film begins with Eloise drawing and being drawn and Rene noting how the reflection of the sea in a window changes how it seems. Similarly we see opera at the theater and then on TV.
Again Chabrol shows how a community responds to threats to itself. The gossip about Rene excludes him from his work with children, and the accusations of Lesage are met with lies by Rene and Vivianne, and Desmot’s threat to Rene’s life is snuffed out. And the culprits defend themselves by casting guilt on others. The Color of Lies finishes with one of these communities admitting it’s lies and resolving to live on.
Au coeur du mensonge is very good indeed and works as a study of social protection and as a whodunit. It is very witty at times and I adored Thomas Chabrol as the most cheery pathologist you could ever meet. In the end it seems to suggest that lies are necessary for our own safety and keeping our lives together and that is horribly true. Fine, fine stuff with standout performances from Gamblin and de Caunes.
Kino have done a poor job here. The transfer here has been ported across from MK2 but there is combing throughout and a lot of grain in the transfer which is horribly apparent in the nighttime sequences. The contrast levels seem way off and there is softness through the feature. It isn’t awful but with such good materials there is a lost opportunity here. The English subtitles also miss some of the dialogue and whilst not crucial it is irritating. The audio is fine.
On the plus side there is an excellent making of documentary with interviews with Chabrol and the leads. De Caunes is very good on Chabrol – “it’s not about the lines but what’s between them”. Again Chabrol comes over as rather jolly and quite free with his actors. Joel Magny provides a solid introduction to the film and there is the trailer.
I imagine that the MK2 disc of this is rather improved in respect of the main feature but I don’t know if it has English Subs as some of the French Chabrol releases do.
This is a fine film but an ordinary presentation of the main feature.