Most days you can catch Judge Daryl Loomis smoking sadly by the bay.
Thank God lies exist.
In a mystery, one can focus on the details of the case and the clues to its solution or one can deal with the lives of the characters surrounding the mystery. While we're more used to the Agatha Christie style whodunits with their twists and turns and hints to the answer, that only if you read closely enough, you could have figured it out yourself. That's the fun of mysteries for a lot of people, but the other way can be a lot more fruitful. In this country, the method was notably used in something like Twin Peaks, but this is much more of a French thing to do. One of the last of the French New Wave directors, Claude Chabrol (Le Boucher) was a master of this art, making labyrinthine plots that barely resolve themselves but have given a ton of insight into the lives of the characters he's written. His 1999 film, The Color of Lies, does just this, setting up a horrific crime only to find it treated like something of an afterthought. But even if this isn't the best mystery of his career, it's exemplary of his talents and one of his better late-era films.
A young girl is found in the woods raped and murdered while on her way home from an art class. New barrister Lesage (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, 5x2) immediately suspects her teacher, Rene Sterne (Jacques Gamblin, The Merry Widow, who was the last one to see her alive. He insists on his innocence, but as the only suspect, only his wife Vivianne (Sandrine Bonnaire, Vagabond) believes him, but she has other things on her mind. Mostly, that's her failing marriage and her new attraction to writer and brash local celebrity Germain-Roland Desmont (Antoine de Caunes, He Is My Girl), who has been acting a little bit strangely himself.
It's funny to think that something as big as child murder would essentially get lost in the shuffle of a crime movie. That could never happen in Hollywood, where we somehow still feel the impulse to wrap everything up into a nice package, satisfying everybody who thinks the only important thing is finding the monster who did it. We do get an answer in the closing moments, but it's treated as one more revelation about somebody that was unknown before.
Really, The Color of Lies is about the intertwining relationships between the married couple and the interloper. Love and lies are two sides of the same coin in this little French town, where social structure and class dynamics are crucial to its function. Lesage is an outsider, new to town, and plays more of the audience surrogate, watching and trying to discern how all these people interconnect.
As a result, Bruni Tedeschi comes off a little cold in the role, but the character is trying to separate herself so she can do her job, so the decision makes sense and, moreover, she is very strong in the role. The trio of other leads is also quite strong, with Bonnaire coming across as the most natural and human, while her husband and suitor are opposite types and, while Vivianne isn't the direct focus of the story initially, much of it becomes about her life.
Chabrol pulls it together in an emotionally satisfying way, if not the most skilled plot-wise of his career. As a character study, there's little that's flashy in his direction, but it's measured and confident as one would expect from a director entering his fifth decade in the business. He knows what he wants and he knows how to get it, both from the photography and from the performances. Both sides are quite strong and, as a result, The Color of Lies works nicely. Maybe in lesser hands, the story holes would have gotten to me more, but those mistakes are covered up with skill and grace.
The Color of Lies arrives on Blu-ray from E1 via the Cohen Film Collection with a release that is a big upgrade from any previous edition of the film. The 1.67:1/1080p image looks great, especially nice because the old DVD edition of the movie was pretty shabby. Now, the movie looks warm and natural, with realistic colors and very nice fine detail throughout the frame. The audio also comes off quite well, though as a dialog-heavy film, it doesn't have the same amount of work to do. Still, it's a full sounding stereo mix with strong, clear dialog and good separation in the channels.
The only real extra is an audio commentary with film critics Wade Major and Andy Klein, who have been on board for Chabrol commentaries before. They're very knowledgeable on the subject and clearly have a good time together, so it's an informative and enjoyable talk that centers on this film in particular and Chabrol's career in general, with a focus on this period of time. There's also a rerelease trailer and a standard def DVD copy of the film, but those are hardly worth mentioning.
Claude Chabrol makes a weird kind of mystery, one where the solution to the case is less important than the personalities of the people surrounding them. He always pulls it off, though, and this late-era entry in his career plays just the same. The Color of Lies might not be the exciting whodunit you would expect, but it's a strong character study with good performances. With a strong technical presentation, I can easily recommend the upgrade.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
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