The Color of Lies (1999)

“You never know who you live with.”

In the picturesque coastal village of St Malo in Brittany–the unimaginable happens–a 10-year-old child is found raped and murdered. Suspicion immediately falls on the girl’s reclusive, mentally fragile art teacher Rene Sterne (Jacques Gamblin). He was the last person to see the girl alive, and the fact that he’s a little odd doesn’t help matters.

Rene struggles to perfect his style, and he teaches art classes on the side, but this source of income dries up when parents begin withdrawing their children from Rene’s classes. Rene’s physician wife, Viviane (Sandrine Bonnaire) is serenely supportive of her husband, but her behaviour masks discontent. Newly assigned Inspector Lesage (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) investigates the murder case and quickly discovers the pros and cons of conducting a murder investigation in a village. Did a passing stranger snatch and kill the child–or horrible to contemplate–is one of the villagers responsible for this heinous crime? She probes Rene’s delicate psyche by noting: “teachers subconsciously seduce their pupils.”

Inspector Lesage finds that some villagers clam up to protect their friends and others gossip freely. Some of the villagers point fingers towards successful Parisian journalist/writer Desmot (Antoine de Caunes). He’s the closest thing to an outsider, and even though he owns a remote cliff top home, he drifts in and out of the area. Desmot is arrogant, successful, and self-satisfied, and he’s coldly interested in the crime in a repulsive way. It’s hard to like Desmot–modesty isn’t one of his qualities and he describes himself as “explosive, combustible, and subversive.” Some villagers fete Desmot as a local celebrity–while others see him as a source of extra income. Desmot claims an interest in Rene’s art, but this is just a cover for a dogged pursuit of Viviane. Desmot and Rene are an interesting contrast. Desmot is perfectly willing to write what sells–he writes for both left and right wing publications–whereas Rene strives for an artistic ideal.

Director Claude Chabrol is known as the French Alfred Hitchcock, and Chabrol’s masterful ability to build suspense creates an intriguing yet deceptively simple tale. Chabrol makes maximum use of location here–the gorgeous coastline, and the remote landscape all contribute to the sense of isolation. Such a crime as the murder of a child seems so horribly out of place against the shimmering sea, and the windswept coastline, and yet at night, the fog rolls in and lightening even cuts off electricity. There are some splendid touches here–Chabrol’s subtle emphasis on mother-daughter relationships ensures that the menace of a sadistic killer remains at the heart of the story. Chabrol fans will not be disappointed with The Colour of Lies. DVD extras include: A Making of the Documentary on The Color of Lies, a presentation by film scholar Joel Magny, the original French trailer, and a Stills Gallery. In French with English subtitles.

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Filed under Claude Chabrol, France

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