Judge Daryl Loomis has never told a lie and that's the truth...unless it's not.
Let me tell you the real story.
Deep down, I've always had a soft spot in my heart for French art. As George Michael Bluth once said, ?I like the way they think.? However, there is absolutely no denying that, on the whole, their work can skew far more pretentious than their other European counterparts. Heck, even their genre films wind up coming off really arty. But I love them anyway, and one of my favorites has always been writer Alain Robbe-Grillet, even though he could be one of the most pretentious out there. His novels like The Voyeur are formally bizarre, but interesting and well-written experiments. Unlike most of his compatriots, though, he felt like he had an obligation to extend his writing into cinema. As a pure screenwriter, he wrote a classic in Last Year at Marienbad, and for some reason, people began giving him money to start directing movies himself. In this, he was not so successful, as becomes perfectly clear in his second directorial project, 1968's The Man Who Lies.
After escaping an onslaught of German soldiers, Boris Varissa (Jean-Louis Trintignant, The Great Silence) heads to a nearby French town, where he tells anybody that will listen that he was a noble freedom fighter for the resistance. They don't know him, but they have a hero of their own, a man named Jan Robin (also Trintignant), who died during the resistance. He claims to have known Robin and, upon arrival at the castle where Robin lived, he begins seducing the women of the house and telling each of them different things about Robin's death. Soon, a man comes to town who claims to be the real Robin and they finally learn the truth about what really happened.
The Man Who Lies, by its title, makes it clear from the title card that this will be an unreliable narrator. Robbe-Grillet liked playing with narration, but I have a much easier time dealing with it in print than on the screen because while both ways are telling me a story, I'm physically watching what's going on in a film. The artiest types might label me a philistine for such a statement, but I can see full well what's going on and that either makes my eyes and ears unreliable or the concept isn't very effective. I vote the latter.
Varissa's stories are mostly about what makes him look better and more able to bed the three women in the house. These are Robin's housekeeper (Sylvie Bréal, Seven Guys and a Gal), his sister (Sylvie Turbová, Nudity), and his widow (Zuzana Kocúriková, Maple and Juliana), in order of whom he sleeps with. His style takes the form of some very tame bondage, but that doesn't have anything to do with the plot; it's just one of Robbe-Grillet's common fetishes.
While I like Trintignant in most things, he isn't given much to do here. He's stiff and wooden, but that seems to be more the fault of the director than that of the actor. Much of it is done in montage, with lots of quick shots of people turning their heads as a line is delivered off camera, and because the truth behind all the lies is pretty obvious, it's hard for him to deliver any tension or believability in his performance. In my estimation, the man who lies should be a good liar and Trintignant does not come across that way here.
The Man Who Lies arrives on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber, under their Redemption label, and it fares pretty well. The 1.33:1/1080p black and white image has strong contrast and decent detail. There are a few instances of damage to the original material, but nothing significant, and no compression issues to report. The single channel mono mix sounds okay, with clear dialog, but there is no dynamic range.
The only substantial extra is a thirty minute interview with Robbe-Grillet about the film. It's very French in that it's no fluff piece; the interviewer is contentious and argues with the director about points in the film. In a funny turn, he asks how he would respond to people who say they don't get it, and his response is that they're probably right, because he doesn't really get it either. What that says about the movie, I'll leave up to you. A set of trailers round out the disc.
What makes me laugh about The Man Who Lies is that, while I've said almost nothing positive about the movie, part of me still really likes it. I like a little bit of obscure pretention in my life and few deliver it quite like Robbe-Grillet. So, though I can't really recommend the movie to general audiences, those who know what they're getting themselves into with the French arthouse will have a nice Blu-ray to watch.
Guilty, but it's probably too snooty to care.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
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