“Claude Chabrol’s Tales of Deceit” could scarcely be a more redundant title for Kimstim’s five-disc sampler — for decades, the prolific French director has been turning out elegant deceptions of a sort that have earned comparisons to Hitchcock as well as his countryman and contemporary, Henri-Georges Clouzot. Small-town murder, blackmail, adultery and nymphomania are all on the menu proffered by this tasty if somewhat arbitrary selection of Chabrol films from the ’80s and ’90s, confirming his status as a maker of sleek, proficient entertainments spiked with a misanthrope’s appreciation of human evil.
“A few probably blind critics find his directing too classic and dull,” sniffs film scholar Joel Magny during a featurette for “The Color of Lies.” Indeed, this 1998 drama has a body temperature comparable to one of Chabrol’s corpses — in this case, a young girl who’s brutally raped and strangled, a subject the film handles with a demonstrable lack of passion. As discussed in interviews with the helmer and thesps Sandrine Bonnaire and Jacques Gamblin, Chabrol is less interested in pinpointing whodunit than in exploring the very nature of deception and the allure of telling lies, even for those who are theoretically innocent.
The effect of murder on an insular community is further explored in 1984’s “Cop au vin” and its sequel, “Inspecteur Lavardin.” The plotting here wouldn’t pass muster on an episode of PBS’ “Mystery!,” but there’s pleasure to be had in veteran thesp Jean Poiret’s soaked-in-vinegar turn as Lavardin, a gimlet-eyed sleuth with a violent streak that surfaces unexpectedly, yet always at just the right moments.
The most satisfying pics here are also the least conventional: “Betty” and “L’enfer” are both daringly unresolved studies of female hypersexuality, though in the case of “L’enfer,” the most hot-blooded and impressionistic of the bunch, the perversions enacted by a very young and voluptuous Emmanuelle Beart may be locked up inside her jealous lover’s head. Not so in “Betty,” which hinges on the seductive conversational dynamic between a damaged trollop (raven-haired Marie Trintignant) and her older benefactress, played by longtime Chabrol muse Stephane Audran.
Audran also turns up in “Cop au vin” as a domineering, wheelchair-bound mother — a nod to “Psycho” that, along with Chabrol’s cheerfully grim Hitchcock-style appearances in the films’ original French trailers, mark this minor but enjoyable collection as a salute from one master to another.