Au Coeur du Mensonge (The Colour of Lies)

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Claude Chabrol masters melancholia as well as suspense in a tale that starts abruptly with a young girl found murdered in the woods of a Breton coastal-town. The last person to see her is her art teacher, René (Jacques Gamblin), who has just given her a lesson in the remote stone cottage he shares with his wife, Vivianne (Sandrine Bonnaire). The cottage is located on the edge of the beach, with woodland just behind. And so, of course, René becomes the main suspect.

‘Au Coeur du Mensonge’ is more a story about René’s crippling mental state than a murder mystery. Chabrol paints René’s distress with a brittle brush. René’s life is unfortunate: he hasn’t exhibited in ten years, he and Vivianne struggle with money, and now suspicions of his paedophilia spiral his melancholia. ‘Everything I do manages to drag me down a bit more,’ he claims.

Bonnaire’s Vivianne remains stoic in her patience and understanding, yet a thundering sadness lies beneath, as she struggles to connect with her husband. This is briefly alleviated by the sexual attention of a local resident: the louche ‘celebrity’ journalist/novelist (Antoine de Caunes). His success is unbearable for René; it makes him plummet even further and drives him closer to paranoia.

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Chabrol locates the couple’s malaise in a landscape and house as bleak and beautiful as René and Vivianne’s marriage. They live in a small stone cottage that shelters their discontent, and from their moments of tenderness and continuing emotional panic, they have a view of the wild open sea.

Frédérique (Valerie Bruni Tedeschi), the beautiful Parisian Commissaire (Chief of Police), is the calm and graceful sail, guiding the investigation towards a certain truth. It is through Frédérique that Chabrol skims the narrative with pebbles of insight on provincial life: ‘in a small town people are jealous and resentful. They have to talk, you just need to listen.’ But as Frédérique discovers, small towns don’t break easily: confessions are withheld, and told only, in the final moment (Chabrol-style), to those who won’t breathe a word.

Director: Claude Chabrol
(1999)

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