A clever murder mystery by Claude Chabrol, with the sardonic
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 07/14/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Inspector Lavardin is back in a movie of murder, complex motives and amusing dialogue. Lavardin (Jean Poiret) is a sardonic French cop, urbane and occasionally brutal. He tends to go by his own rules. He loves to make a noise and to put feathers under the bourgeois noses he encounters. "He respects nothing and nobody," says French film scholar Joel Magny, "neither young people nor artists nor drug addicts nor Catholic novelists." In this second film outing, the inspector encounters all of the above.
In a provincial French town set on the coast, the body of Raoul Mons is found face down nude on the beach. He has "porc" written in lipstick on his back and a deep stab wound in his side. Mons was an unctuous, eminent novelist who wore his Catholicism on his sleeve. He was the acknowledged pillar of the local bourgeois society; the enforcer of moral thought and behavior in the town. He was a wealthy man who left a great stone mansion, a wife, Helene Mons (Bernadette Lafont), who didn't seem to care for him, her brother, Claude Alvarez (Jean-Claude Brialy), who cared even less, and the wife's 13-year-old-daughter by her first husband. Into town to investigate comes Inspector Lavardin, who is put up at the Mons mansion. He finds any number of surprises. The widow turns out to be a woman with whom he was lovers 20 years ago. Her first husband disappeared with her brother's wife; they are presumed dead. Helene married Raoul Mons for security. She was repulsed by Mons' sanctimoniousness and never shared a bed with him. Her brother has his own story. "I was married seven years, same as my sister," he tells Lavardin. "Then one day, no more wife. I'm not sorry. It was great, because after my wife, Jeanne, died, I was more attracted to Romeos than to Juliettes." He has no occupation other than long-time house guest of his sister. He enjoys painting glass eyes. Does he seem just a little too affectionate toward his niece? And Helene's daughter, Veronique. She may be 13, but at night, when her mother thinks she's in her room, she sneaks out looking much older to go to a smarmy nightclub in town, where drugs and alcohol for underage patrons are available for a price.
Lavardin is not to be denied. He digs and sniffs and turns over secrets. Perhaps Raoul Mons was not the figure of rectitude he seemed to be. Perhaps the owner of the nightclub is even worse than he looks. Lavardin knows what people are capable of and he is not impressed. Beware when he gives you his sardonic and insincere smile or his impatient frown. When he is after a murderer, he'll have no time for your own petty worries and bruised feelings. The side of your face may feel his hand. Still, when one night he busts the nightclub and sends the underage patrons briskly on their way, he calls out to them not to forget the Policeman's Charitable Fund.
This is a first rate, clever murder mystery that I watched, because of Inspector Lavardin's style, with a slight smile for the first two-thirds of the movie. As the mystery gradually became clear, as I grew to know many of the characters, I stopped smiling. The cleverness remained, but Chabrol had me guessing even as the situation became grim. The eventual outcome was satisfying, even touching, as long as you can appreciate Inspector Lavardin's own brand of justice. He's not a man to underestimate.
The DVD looks just fine. The subheads are easy to read. Except for a very brief recording by Magny there are no extras to speak of.
The first of the Inspector Lavardin movies Chabrol directed and cowrote, also with Jean Poiret as Lavardin, is Cop au Vin. It's another clever murder mystery and well worth having."