The Claude Chabrol Collection
Volume 2

Starring: Michel Bouquet, Christian Marquad, Helene Regnie, Paul Gegauff, Daniele Gegauff, Rod Steiger, Romy Schneider, Jean Poiret and Stephane Audran
Arrow Films
RRP: £34.99
Certificate: 18
Available 27 August 2006

Without a doubt Claude Chabrol (born 1930, Paris) was an important French director, often referred to as a Gallic Alfred Hitchcock, though to be fair to Chabrol it would be more accurate to say the he had been heavily influenced by Hitchcock at a time when many directors were. Chabrol was not unaware of the comparison and even published, along with Eric Rohmer, a book on Hitchcock's works (Hitchcock: The First Forty-four Films, 1957). Like Hitchcock, Chabrol would often appear as a cameo in his own films.

He was one of the new European directors, along with Jean-Luc Goddard and Francois Truffaut, who came to the fore in the late fifties and early sixties, in what was termed the French New Wave. And, whilst his films rarely were accorded the acclaim that was lauded on almost everything that Goddard and Truffaut produced, he rarely made a bad film. Even the worst of his output still had interesting elements.

Although his influence waned with the turn of the century, his acerbic view of the French bourgeoisie never did. This would become the main vein which he would mine time and again - which was an oddity as it was exactly this social stratum which allowed him to produce his films.

The Claude Chabrol Collection: Volume 2 box-set takes films from his latter period, though they cover a period from 1967 to 2003.

When a magician is intercepted smuggling electronics which will disable NATO's defence radar, Sharpes (Michel Bouquet), a US agent sends tow of his best field operatives after the boxes. When Ford (Christian Marquad) discovers the plot he calls his wife with the good news, but while she disrobes he is despatched by a boater wearing dandy. Suspicion for the murder falls on Shanny (Jean Seberg), who teams up with Fords partner, Dex (Maurice Ronet) to track down the boxes and prove her innocence...

The Road to Corinth (La Route de Corinthe, 1967), directed by Chabrol from the novel Fleuve Noir, represents a departure from his normal bourgeois bashing thrillers. The spy genre was very popular in the sixties, so it is strange that this film is uniformly dull. In England The Ipcress File (1965) and Funeral in Berlin (1966) had plunged into the gritty realism of espionage as well as producing the stylish run of Sean Connery Bond films, plus Hitchcock had produced many of his thriller including North by Northwest (1959), so its not as if Chabrol didn't have something to plunder for influence or inspiration.

It's not that it doesn't have the requisite elements of a spy thriller; Jean Seberg is dutifully pretty as the films femme fatale and both Maurice Ronet and Christian Marquad are suitably dimensioned as the buff heroic clothes horses. But whilst all the elements are there Chabrol does not seem to know what to do to inject either tension or style. In the end the characters just seem to be wandering around a bit aimlessly.

The 4:3 print is good and the mono French audio track comes with selectable English subtitles. The disc contains no extras.

When Stephane Audran's husband looses the plot, in a big way, and throws their child against the wall, she flees the family home. Safely ensconced, or so she thinks, in a boarding house. She has not reckoned on the power of her father-in-law, who is determined to have the child for himself. When he cannot find any incriminating evidence in her past he sets in motion a plan to debauch her landlady's daughter...

The Breach (La Rupture, 1970) was written and directed by Chabrol from an original novel (The Balloon Man) by Charlotte Armstrong - the story having been transposed from rural England to France.

Chabrol is back where he is happiest in bourgeois bashing mode. Audran's (Helene Regnier) simple and pure love for her child is continually assailed by the powerful and unscrupulous. The theme of abuse smacks you right in the face as Audran smacks her drug crazed husband in the head with a frying pan before fleeing the house with her injured child. She suffers both physical and mental abuse as she is assailed in a barely disguised class battle which leads to a shocking climax.

This film is not going to be to everybody's taste. Apart from the violent beginning the rest of the film is a bit of a slow burner as she fights not only for her son but also for her sanity.

The print is pretty good with only minor artefacts, which don't distract from the overall enjoyment of the film, which is presented in French with optional subtitles and no extras.

The morally dissolute and abusive Philippe (Paul Gegauff) encourages his wife, Esther (Daniele Gegauff) to take a lover, but as she draws inspiration from them his influence on his wife slips through his fingers...

Pleasure Party (Une Partie de Plaisir, 1975) was directed by Chabrol from a story by Paul Gegauff. Gegauff really shouldn't have appeared in the film with his wife, soon to be ex-wife, just ask Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. In fact the film is a bit of an odd thing to watch, knowing that Gegauff would die, having been stabbed to death by his second wife.

Anyone who has seen a Chabrol film will know that as soon as Philippe encourages his wife to have an affair his hold on her would diminish. Being one of the despised bourgeoisies he does not take this lying down. Rather he removes his wife and subjects her to even more increasing levels of abuse to kill her new found independence and assert his authority. But, of course this is a Chabrol film, where no deed goes unpunished.

Overall it's not a bad film, if a little predictable, with little in the way of mystery or thrills to sustain it; it drags a little in places. Its biggest failing is Gegauff who drones on and on, angst ridden to the point of boredom.

Once more nice print, in French with optional subtitles and no extras.

When Julie tires of her husband Louis, following the start of an affair with a younger man, she determines that divorce is not an option and kills him. She persuades her new lover to bludgeon her husband to death. After doing the dirty deed he runs away leaving her to face the police. However, strange things are afoot as the supposedly dead husband appears to be using their bank accounts...

Innocents with Dirty Hands (Les Innocents aux Mains Sales, 1975), directed by Chabrol, is a much more superior thriller - although the inclusion of Rod Steiger, playing the doomed Louis, is an odd inclusion as he is patently speaking in English and all his lines have been dubbed into French, loosing much of Steiger's performance. Romy Schneider (Julie) is not only beautiful but is also a great actress, so any film which starts with a shot of her naked body would make anyone sit up and pay attention.

Of course the central mystery is not whether she intended to kill her husband; rather it is the mystery of his apparent survival. Much of the "did she or didn't she" sustains the film's drive, which kicks in the morning following the murder when she wakes up alone, no lover and no body.

There is nothing so incestuous or destructive than small town secrets and feuds. When a group of self important townsfolk try to buy Mrs Cuno's house they are rebuffed. Not wishing to loose the lucrative land deal the townsfolk resort to threats and intimidation. However the Cuno's are not so easily run out of town and fight back. When things get out of hand the little, dirty secrets of the town come under the unconventional eye of Detective Jean Lavardin...

Cop au Vin (Poulet au Vinaigre, 1985) directed by Chabrol was nominated for a Golden Palm, a Cesar and a Mystfest award and justifiably won Jean Poiret a Mystfest award for best actor. The film is very similar in its premise to Jean de Floret, but with more grotesques and a lot more mayhem. Chabrol casts his cold eye on the hypocrisy of everyone involved.

Stephane Audran, who plays Madam Cuno is so over powering that she has effectively emasculated her poor postal worker son Louis (Lucas Belvaux), who conspires with his mother in steaming open the towns post. There are no innocents, but there is a blinding performance by Jean Poiret, whose character of Inspector Lavardin was so successful that he was brought back in his own spin-off film and a television series.

If for nothing else, this box set is a great chance to see Chabrol return to form with Cop au Vin. The film is once more presented with a very nice print and this one comes with extras, okay so the first one is only a trailer, but the second one is a three minute introduction to the film - might not seem much, but given that the pervious four films had nada, you get to a point where you're easily pleased.

When Francois Vasseur returns home from America, he finds his mother is running for Mayor and his father has started a more than slightly illegal medicines laboratory. If that were not enough dirt, Francois sleeps with his stepsister. Now secrets have a way of getting out and in the run up to the election all the families' dirty secrets threaten to come out...

The Flower of Evil (La Fleur du Mal, 2003) opens with a corpse, so we know we're in for a good ride, as Chabrol lifts the lid on one family's secrets, and what a family. They are so wrapped up in their own version of the world that the most positive thing about them is their acceptance of the semi-incestuous relationship between Francois and his stepsister and cousin.

The lives, loves, immorality and debauchery of the French bourgeoisie are once more under the Chabrol microscope in this story of incest and political intrigue.

Overall it's another good post mortem of just how petty the French bourgeoisie can be. It's a nice bookend to his work as it deals with the same themes which informed the majority of Chabrols work, wrapped up nicely in a thriller.

For once the disc does come with a useful extra in the form of a Making of feature, which runs for twenty-three and a half minutes, featuring behind the scenes shots, the actors discussing their roles and even Chabrol himself directing the film.

For Chabrol fans the box set it going to be a must. For anyone else the set contains more good than bad films and would still represent good value.

Charles Packer

Buy this item online
We compare prices online so you get the cheapest deal!
Click on the logo of the desired store below to purchase this item.

£26.24 (Amazon.co.uk)
£27.99 (Play.com)
£24.99 (HMV.co.uk)
£29.99 (Sendit.com)
£26.99 (Bensons-world.co.uk)

All prices correct at time of going to press.