Directed by Claude Chabrol
Starring: Jean Poiret, Stephane Audran, Michel Bouquet
Studio: Kimstim/ Kino Video
Video: 16×9 Enhanced, color
Audio: PCM mono, French
Extras: Presentation by Joel Magny, Original French Trailer, Stills Gallery Length: 100 minutes
Eschewing the simplistic ethical renderings of right and wrong, director Chabrol instead chose to revel in a dark and sensuous world of ambiguity and moral relativism in his 1984 small town thriller, Cop Au Vin – where murderers can elicit our sympathies and heroes can inspire our fears.
The opening credits are presented as a tipsy view through a photographer’s camera as he roams about a garden party, randomly capturing the various guests and future suspects and victims as the camera lens goes fluidly in and out of focus, at once an homage to the French New Wave, of which Chabrol was a founding member, and a foretelling of the jittery handheld look of the 1990s. It is this scene that introduces the characters and sets up the dramatic and eventually deadly tensions that exists between them.
The plot centers on the efforts of three would-be developers in a small town that conspire to force a wheelchair-bound, venomously bitter woman and her docile, emotionally inhibited son from their home. As the three intensify their campaign of intimidation, events go steadily out of control and people start to die. After the first murder, and nearly halfway though the film, a policeman arrives at the town to investigate. Inspector Lavardin, perceptively played with affable intensity by Jean Poirot, works his way through the cast of characters ferreting out the truth. Lavardin combines the single-minded pursuit of justice of Philip Marlowe and unrestrained brutality of judgment of Dirty Harry, illustrating Chabrol’s longtime fascination with the hidden bestial nature of humanity. At the end, it is Lavardin who decides who will be punished and who will escape.
The writing, direction, cinematography, and performances of this film are deceptively simple and the film almost appears as if it would feel right at home on television, except for this: every shot, every line, every performance is pitch perfect. There is an economic, virtuosic feeling to the film signifying that nothing is wasted and illustrating the capabilities of a master filmmaker like Claude Chabrol.