-MONTHLY VHS & DVD REVIEW-
Cop au Vin|
cast: Jean Poiret, Stéphane Audran, Michel Bouquet, Jean Topart, and Lucas Belvaux
director: Claude Chabrol
104 minutes (18) 1984
Arrow DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by Paul Higson
Claude Chabrol has the reputation of being the French Hitchcock but the comparison appears
to be largely and simply drawn from a compulsion and indebtedness towards the thriller film.
Hitchcock rarely stepped outside the genre with murder and crimes central to virtually every
film that he made subsequent to The Skin Game in 1930. Chabrol, too, seems incapable
of dislodging himself from the cinema of ill-doers, but Chabrol is nothing like Hitchcock.
There is laissez-faire to Chabrol's films, a casual approach to the murderous act. Chabrol
has none of Hitchcock's imagination, nor has he the master's ability for tension. He instead
identifies the novelty in an existent work, often published, and transfers it to the screen.
If the angle is sharp enough it will boldly smack the viewer right between the eyes, but if
he has miscalculated and it is not enough the story will flap and die. His best work is often
that conducted with a degree of humour. To that end it aligns itself closer to a French tradition,
resembling the films that resulted when Truffaut went for the crime tale, as in Un belle fille
comme toi, or Truffaut's own provincial thriller Vivement Dimanche.
Chabrol's 1984 film Cop au Vin was well received in the UK on its original release
and continues to stand up well today. Based on Dominique Roulet's novel Un Mort de Trop,
it primarily concerns three local businessmen who are placing pressure on an invalided mother
and her son to vacate a house and grounds. They offer what they profess to be a generous price
but it comes nothing close to the profits they can eventually glean from the land. Their company
name is Filame, a triple portmanteau derived from their surnames. In their other occupations
they are a lawyer, a doctor and a butcher. They do little to hide their true unpleasantness to
the householders, particularly Louis, the son (played by Lucas Belvaux, recently the star of
Diva). The three are like a rhinoceros, a snake and a weasel. They believe themselves
the mightier, superior to the mother and son act, and consider the property in the bag.
The usual scoundrels' bag of tricks doesn't apply here though as, cleverly, Louis is the
local postman, and before taking the mail to the addressees he first takes it home where he ]
and his mother steam the envelopes open. This gives them remarkable advantage over their
adversaries and, in the case of the deluded and paranoid mother, a few perceived enemies.
Their cellar is set up like an incident room. When the villains inform Louis that the law
is on their side and eviction is imminent, he can remain silent and unperturbed in the
knowledge that it is a lie. The justiciary have found against the eviction determining the
actions of Filame in the matter of the Cune deal to be illegal.
Here lies a concept that can playfully amuse for the next hour or so, and the viewer can
imagine the coming entertainment value as the apparent underdogs retaliate with that continuing
upper hand. Hitchcock scratches his chin and wonders where the tension is? Hitchcock asks when
then might we begin to worry about our protagonists? Chabrol responds with a fast one. The
story makes an abrupt swerve and in a new direction. A prank designed to further compromise
Filame goes deadly wrong and the butcher is killed in a road accident. Louis is now a killer,
though the appearance of an outside investigator is fed into the tale so slowly that the
audience still has little immediately fear for him, if it should have any at all, after all
he did kill someone. A quick picture has been painted that the Filame triumvirate are capable
of anything and as much may have been the fate of Louis and his mother.
The film is two thirds through before the detective, the initially unobtrusive and eccentric
Inspector Lavardin (Jean Poiret), reveals his true nature, a methodology grounded in violent
persuasion. Like Columbo he has a sixth sense for the truth. Unlike Columbo he is a dynamo of
sudden aggressive action, which is contrary to his under-built physique. Neither is he going
to allow recommended good practice or a person's social position and circle of influence
restrict him when it comes to his style of 'interrogation'. The moment the butcher's van
crumples around the butcher the story disappointingly shifts away from the siege on the house,
as the Cune deal is no longer viable. Another mystery, however, is attached. The doctor's wife
has already gone missing; she who had protested and planned to oppose her husband's dirty tricks
campaign against the Cunes. It was never much of a mystery but, interestingly, it is not the
obvious driving the rest of the film forward. The questions on the viewer are how many more
will suffer and in what way before the culprits are brought to book. To this we can add good
humour, sickly twists and an appealing ensemble cast.
The colour appears a little washed out but the image is generally good. The styles were as
bad, if not worse, in France in the 1980s, but the ugly cocktail dresses and clown frocks
are not as prevalent as the story progresses. This is due to female characters being less
of a focus and more prone to vanishing. Cop au Vin is highly entertaining Chabrol.