15 April 2006 | dbdumonteil
one can do everything my bloke when one is in the police force!
I have sometimes written in some reviews about some Claude Chabrol's flicks that I didn't find "Poulet Au Vinaigre" a memorable work. However I watched it recently and it's not that bad after all. Of course, it is several notches below such incomparable works as "La Femme Infidèle" (1969) or "Le Boucher" (1970) but it remains thoroughly watchable. Congratulations to the English film distributors who found an equivalent for the translation of the French title into English. It is perfectly well translated.
When in 1984, Chabrol starts the preparation of this "Poulet Au Vinaigre", he endured three fiasco in a row. The eighties didn't look a fruitful decade for him. "Le Cheval D'Orgeuil" (1980) got bogged down in a spate of clichés about Brittany and betrayed Pierre-Jakey Hélias' book. "Les Fantômes Du Chapelier" (1982), his first venture in Georges Simenon's universe was well received by French critics but hardly anybody went to see it. "Le Sang Des Autres" (1984) was a turgid and impersonal film in his spotty but riveting career.
So, what could Chabrol do to get things back on an even keel and to be reconciled with both critics and his public? Very simply, to cook them a typical Chabrolesque dish to the core with a minimum of money (the filmmaker wanted to show that it was possible to shoot good films with a modest budget in times of inflation) and time (a few weeks of shooting were sufficient for him to shoot his film). Thus, he kept turning over the staple ingredients which made his hallmark recognizable. He needed the apparently peaceful scenery of a small provincial town. Here, he chose Forges-Les Eaux in Normandy which isn't very far from I live in Rouen! The perfect backdrop for his story. Then, precisely a solidly structured story with several functions. First, to grab and entertain the audience and his fans with a certainly derivative but catchy storytelling. Louis Cuno is a timid postman who lives under her mother's thumb (Stéphane Audran). They refuse to sell their house to a trio of perfidious, perverse bourgeois, the doctor Morasseau, the butcher Filiol and the notary Lavoisier (Michel Bouquet) who want to set up a momentous and shady estate business. As he is a postman, Louis gets information about this trio of upper-class people At night, Louis spies them and one night, he kills the butcher by pouring sugar in the essence of his car and the maverick inspector Lavardin (Jean Poiret) keeps on harassing him... Then, Delphine Morasseau, the doctor's wife seems to have absconded while Anna Foscarie (Caroline Cellier) a prostitute is found dead in a car crash. With his unconventional methods, Lavardin will find the truth...
It is at this reading that we fully understand Chabrol's mainspring for the last function of his scenario and perhaps the most essential ingredient: to unearth skeletons in the closet of his trio of bourgeois and to shatter the respectability of the provincial bourgeoisie which has usually been Chabrol's trademark. He tapped it again with gusto here. But his scenario also encompasses a dash of psychology to better construe the persona of his characters and it gives more substance to his work.
Chabrol served his film (and his recipe) with ingenious camera work too. It encompasses neat camera angles and fluid camera movements which can only rejoice the gourmets. To enable them to fully savor the film, Chabrol shot his story on an unhurried pace. There was also effort on the lighting and framing which are up to scratch to the aura the film conveys according to the circumstances. And the director didn't put aside his pronounced taste for gastronomy. The inspector Lavardin is nutty about paprika eggs. He has eaten 30,000 of them in his life! At last, the chef Chabrol spiced up his work with a soupçon of deadpan humor essentially provided by the apparently nice Lavardin. By the way, is it innocuous humor? One has to admit that Lavardin's methods to make the suspects speak aren't really reassuring.
Maybe the cast contains a few little drawbacks. Lucas Belvaux is not bad but often bland. Pauline Laffont's acting is sometimes annoying. Jean Claude Bouillaud acts a caricatured character. But Stéphane Audran (once Mrs Chabrol) is excellent as usual. Like in "la Rupture" (1970), she was Michel Bouquet's enemy. This is precisely Bouquet who dominates the cast at the level of the quality of the acting with of course Jean Poiret.
In the end, the chef Chabrol concocted the audience and his fans an eatable even tasty "Poulet Au Vinaigre" which pleased a lot to the chef's connoisseurs. It was succulent enough to prompt Chabrol to do it again with a sequel which opened the next year: "Inspecteur Lavardin" (1986). That said, Chabrol's "pièce De resistance" in the eighties came with the contemporary "Masques" (1987) which stood the test of time quite well.