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The Color of Lies

A delicious sense of suspense haunts Claude Chabrol's latest character-study-cum-whodunit, "The Color of Lies," which ranks just behind the excellent "La ceremonie" among the veteran helmer's work this decade.

A delicious sense of suspense haunts Claude Chabrol’s latest character-study-cum-whodunit, “The Color of Lies,” which ranks just behind the excellent “La ceremonie” among the veteran helmer’s work this decade. Set in a small community on the northern coast of France where everybody knows something about everybody, pic follows the emotional fortunes of a lovey-dovey couple after the husband is suspected of a shocking crime. Enjoyable perfs (particularly a spot-on turn by Antoine de Caunes as a self-important literary gadfly) and plenty of tension, sparked by Chabrol’s trademark humor, all help keep viewers guessing. This 100% French yet effortlessly universal pic — set to compete at Berlin next month — should travel to fests and discerning hardtops worldwide.

If freshly appointed police chief Frederique Lesage (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) thought her transfer from Paris to the serene seaside enclave of St. Malo, in Brittany, would be uneventful, she couldn’t have been more wrong. After 10-year-old Eloise left her weekly drawing lesson at the shoreside house of painter Rene Sterne (Jacques Gamblin), she was raped and strangled. Rene was, therefore, “the last, or next-to-last” person to see little Eloise alive.

Rene gives private art lessons because his work no longer sells. He and his wife of 12 years, Viviane (Sandrine Bonnaire), a registered nurse who is as smiley and buoyant as Rene is dour and morose, are utterly devoted to each other.

It’s April, and flamboyant mediagenic journalist, novelist, TV host and ladies’ man Germain-Roland Desmot (de Caunes) has just breezed in from Paris to his country retreat in St. Malo. A smooth operator who simultaneously contributes to conservative daily Le Figaro, an extreme left-wing magazine and a celebrity-driven rag, Desmot tosses off the pithy sayings of great men as if they were his own and flirts shamelessly with Viviane.

About town, we meet experienced police detective Loudun (Bernard Verley); flaky blue-haired merchant Yvelyne Bordier (Bulle Ogier) and her husband (Noel Simsolo); and repairman and dealer in hot goods Regis Marchal (Pierre Martot) and his girlfriend, Anna (Adrienne Pauly), among others. The police have no solid leads, but Rene, under suspicion, starts to lose his students and feel more and more paranoid.

Story unspools in neat episodes, often with fade-outs in between. Chabrol makes the most of missing garden tools, impenetrable fog, a wry coroner, a latenight boat trip, a teenage sleuth, stolen church property and a cross-section of little white lies as the detailed narrative advances. When another dead body turns up, Rene again looks like the culprit. Does Lesage have what it takes to solve the crimes?

Gamblin conveys the about-to-crack demeanor of a sensitive man, and Bonnaire is breezy as the spouse who may or may not be fooling around. Bruni-Tedeschi at first seems an odd choice for the role of chief cop, but makes a pleasant change from crusty, older law-enforcement types. Ogier and de Caunes are both great fun.

Eduardo Serra’s lensing includes lots of intimate close-ups and captures the provincial charm of the quaint locale. Music, by helmer’s son Matthieu Chabrol, pops up now and again to meld the jaunty and the sinister. Original French title literally means “At the Heart of the Lie.”

The Color of Lies

French

  • Production: An MK2 Diffusion release (in France) of an MK2 Prods./France 3 Cinema production, with participation of Canal Plus. (International sales: MK2, Paris.) Produced by Marin Karmitz. Directed by Claude Chabrol. Screenplay, Odile Barski, Chabrol.
  • Crew: Camera (color), Eduardo Serra; editor, Monique Fardoulis; music, Matthieu Chabrol; production designer, Francoise Benoit-Fresco; costume designer, Corinne Jorry; sound (Dolby Digital), Jean-Bernard Thomasson, Claude Villand, Christian Fontaine; assistant director, Cecile Maistre. Reviewed at UGC Cine Cite Les Halles, Paris, Jan. 13, 1999. (In Berlin Film Festival -- competing.) An MK2 Diffusion release (in France) of an MK2 Prods./France 3 Cinema production, with participation of Canal Plus. (International sales: MK2, Paris.) Produced by Marin Karmitz. Directed by Claude Chabrol. Screenplay, Odile Barski, Chabrol. Running time: 108 MIN.
  • With: Viviane Sterne - Sandrine Bonnaire Rene Sterne - Jacques Gamblin Frederique Lesage - Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi Germain-Roland Desmot - Antoine de Caunes Detective Loudun - Bernard Verley Yvelyne Bordier - Bulle Ogier Regis Marchal - Pierre Martot M. Bordier - Noel Simsolo Anna - Adrienne Pauly