Starring: Jean Poiret, Jean-Claude Brialy, Jean-Luc Bideau Directed by Claude Chabrol
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
Inspecteur Jean Lavardin, the police detective from Cop Au Vin, returns in another taut murder mystery from Claude Chabrol. Lavardin, played by Jean Poiret, is the centerpiece of this film, providing further evidence that this character is one of the greatest and most intriguing anti-heroes ever committed to film.
With brusque economy in the opening scene, Chabrol introduces the principle players around a dinner table and in the very next scene reveals the murder victim, a corpulent Catholic writer of morality found naked on a rocky beach and dead from a stab wound with the word “porc” (pig) written on his back in scarlet lipstick. Soon after this, Lavardin arrives in the village cruising among the suspects and townsfolk like a shark in search of prey. The people he encounters consistently mistake his easy-going and friendly appearance for harmlessness, and tremendously underestimate both his intentions and his capabilities. Rather than single-mindedly solving the primary murder and leaving it at that, Lavardin evaluates the relative culpability of the village’s residents, assesses their guilt, and then dispenses his own form of justice, which may not match up with the rest of society.
By the time we see the actual crime and what instigated it, we are shown a murder that is horrifying, prosaic, and darkly humorous all at the same time. In the course of the film, Chabrol demonstrates the complexities and contradictions of ethics and life, and shows how justice can be served when a “good” person is killed and an “innocent” person is punished. This film contains most, if not all, of Chabrol’s subjects of interest: small town life shaded with dubious dealings, family life characterized by function and dysfunction, and morality defined by ambiguousness.
Inspecteur Lavardin is tightly scripted, expertly directed and beautifully filmed. Jean Poiret inhabits his character of Lavardin in an utterly convincing performance among many other standout performances from other actors like Jean-Claude Brialy as Claude Alvarez, Jean-Luc Bideau as Max Charnet, and Hermine Clair as Veronique Manguin. If the first Lavardin film, Cop Au Vin, had a flaw, it was that Lavardin wasn’t in it enough. This time around, Chabrol corrects this error and in the process creates a better film.
– Hermon Joyner