11 June 2010 | Bunuel1976
COP AU VIN (Claude Chabrol, 1985) ***
After another undue interruption in my ongoing Chabrol tribute – incidentally, I messed up the date and he will only turn 80 on the 24th of June rather than last May! – I plan to tackle it in earnest now, a task which will occupy me till the end of the month (to go along with a parallel Dennis Hopper tribute).
Anyway, this proved to be another stepping-stone in the French director's erratic but prolific filmography; by the end of the 1970s, his career had suffered a decline but it got back on track with this enjoyable award-winning thriller (incidentally, the hybrid retitling for U.S. consumption was an unusual touch), one that was successful enough to warrant a sequel – INSPECTOR LAVARDIN (1986; a viewing of which is to follow this one) – and a brief TV series made between 1988 and 1990 which seems to be unavailable for re-appraisal.
Still, for all the film's typical elements of detailed setting, nuanced characterization and ironic outlook, it does not quite scale the heights of Chabrol's finest work due to an essentially flimsy plot: indeed, even such later – and ostensibly lower-profile – efforts as the recently-viewed THE CRY OF THE OWL (1987) involve a denser and more gripping narrative! This is not to say that COP AU VIN lacks suspense or surprise: actually, the latter concerns most of all the iconoclastic Inspector himself – in spite of a dapper facade, he is blasé, forthright (even referring to a character's effeminacy as "AC/DC"!) and not above breaking into premises sans warrant or intimidating suspects to get at the truth – belatedly called in to investigate a murder, only to be met with a very similar one soon after and, later, the disappearance of a woman, all of whom are tied to a property development company whose methods are not the most ethical either.
Jean Poiret, ideally cast here and who would of course reprise the central role in the sequel(s), had garnered a reputation as a playwright and even secured an Oscar nomination for co-writing LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (1978); then in 1992, the same year he died of a heart attack (at 65), he stepped into the director's chair with LE ZEBRE (which won him a posthumous Cesar for Best First Film)! Incidentally, later on in the decade, he married one of his co-stars here i.e. Caroline Cellier (who, years before, had been the leading lady in arguably Chabrol's masterpiece THIS MAN MUST DIE ); besides the latter, the film under review featured two of the director's frequent protagonists in supporting roles: ex-wife Stephane Audran (playing an invalid) and a very slim Michel Bouquet. Also on hand is amiably kooky Pauline Lafont (daughter of Bernadette, another "New Wave" regular and who would actually co-star in INSPECTOR LAVARDIN) – whose promising career was brought to a premature end when she perished in a fall, at just 25 years of age, in 1988!