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  Cop au Vin Revenge is a dish with a salty aftertaste
Year: 1984
Director: Claude Chabrol
Stars: Jean Poiret, Stéphane Audran, Lucas Belvaux, Michel Bouquet, Jean Topart, Pauline Lafont, Andrée Tainsy, Jean-Claude Bouillaud, Jacques Frantz, Albert Dray
Genre: Comedy, Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: As its punning title (also known as Poulet au Vinaigre) suggests, this is Claude Chabrol at his most playful. A stylish opening is shot through a roving camera as it stalks various elegant guests at an evening soiree. The narrative then settles into the tale of put-upon, small town postal worker, Louis (Lucas Belvaux) who brings the town’s mail for his nosy, wheelchair-bound mother (Stéphane Audran) to read. Burdened by her demands, and bullied by property developers eager to kick mother and son out of their dilapidated home, Louis indulges in act of petty revenge. The result is an accidental death that exposes a web of deceit, conspiracy and murder.

A crowd-pleasing murder mystery, Cop au Vin was well received by the public and critics alike, who considered it a return to form for Chabrol. Yet this remains a frothy, insubstantial piece, less interesting than some of those perceived failures by the master director. A slow build is enlivened by trademark moments of black comedy and sharp observation, but forty minutes pass before things really kick into gear with the arrival of Inspector Lavardin (Jean Poiret). Sort of like Columbo’s meaner, two-fisted, Gallic cousin, Lavardin’s amiable exterior belies a no-nonsense attitude. He’s not above breaking and entering, coercion, bribery or roughing up suspects. In the mid-eighties, maverick cops dominated the French box office, and Lavardin feels like Chabrol’s more cerebral take on the kind of brawny, anti-heroes Jean-Paul Belmondo and Alain Delon played. As with most loose cannon detectives, behaviour that is reprehensible in real life is hugely entertaining on the big screen. Particularly when juxtaposed with the innocuousness of provincial life.

Chabrol’s best films use murder mysteries to uncover dark secrets and troubling, psychological waters lurking beneath the surface. The problem here already exists on the surface. We already know Louis resents his mother, that she fears he will abandon her, and that a shadowy consortium is out to get them. There is no real mystery. The pleasure instead lies in the incidentals, meaning Poiret. Chabrol allegedly remarked he’d never met such a nervous actor. If so, then director and star channelled that nervous energy into a charismatic performance that fuelled a sequel, three TV movies and maybe more had not the actor succumbed to a heart attack. Of the supporting players, Chabrol-regular (and then spouse) Audran is top notch as the poisonous matriarch, but Belvaux struggles to engage our sympathy. Hardly his fault since the character is written like a leaf floating on the wind, blowing this way and that, forever a slave to forces beyond his control, be they his mother, his girlfriend or the bullying Lavardin. Chabrol learnt his lesson and had the wily cop take centre stage for the superior, Inspector Lavardin (1986).
Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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Claude Chabrol  (1930 - 2010)

A renowned director of French thrillers, he was one of the originators of the French New Wave of the fifties and sixties, often concentrating on middle class characters going through crises that led to murder, and made around fifty of these films in his long career. Starting with Le Beau Serge in 1958, he went on to direct such respected efforts as Les Cousins, The Champagne Murders, Les Biches, This Man Must Die, Le Boucher, Blood Relatives, Poulet au Vinaigre, a version of Madame Bovary with frequent star Isabelle Huppert, L'enfer, La Ceremonie, The Girl Cut in Two with Ludivine Sagnier, and his final work for the cinema, Bellamy with Gerard Depardieu.

 
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