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COP AU VIN (Poulet au vinaigre) (director: Claude Chabrol; screenwriters: from the novel Une mort en trop by Dominique Roulet/ Dominique Roulet; cinematographer: Jean Rabier; editor: Monique Fardoulis; music: Matthieu Chabrol; cast: Jean Poiret (Inspecteur Jean Lavardin), Stéphane Audran (Madame Cuno), Michel Bouquet (Hubert Lavoisier), Jean Topart (Docteur Philippe Morasseau), Lucas Belvaux (Louis Cuno), Pauline Lafont (Henriette Uriel), Andrée Tainsy (Marthe), Jean-Claude Bouillaud (Gérard Filiol), Albert Dray (André, le barman), Caroline Cellier (Anna Foscarie), Jacques Frantz (Alexandre Duteil), Dominique Zardi (Henri Rieutord, chef de poste), Henri Attal (L’employé de la morgue); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Marin Karmitz; Kino Video; 1984-France-in French with English subtitles)
“A classic jeu d’espirit Chabrol crime thriller.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Prolific French New Wave director Claude Chabrol (“Inspecteur Lavardin”/”Landru”/”The Unfaithful Wife”) helms a classic jeu d’espirit Chabrol crime thriller that’s set in a corrupt undisclosed small provincial French town rife with a dirty land speculation deal, dirty town secrets and a few grotesque murders. As is his want, Chabrol gets a chance to skewer unmercifully the bourgeoisie. Dominique Roulet hands in the screenplay from his own novel Une mort en trop.

The widowed for the last 12 years Mrs. Cuno (Stephane Audran) is a mentally troubled wheelchair-bound invalid who is afraid of being left alone and can’t stop bullying her teen postal mail carrier son Louis (Lucas Belvaux) into obeying her possessive commands until she leaves him an emotional cripple. They are threatened with the loss of her old home by a conniving trio of “upright citizens” who want her property as part of a deal for a lucrative development project and offer her a substantial cash settlement but make all kinds of threats if they don’t go along–including burning down her house. The three men are a burly aggressive butcher Gérard Filiol (Jean-Claude Bouillaud), a wealthy nervous doctor Philippe Morasseau (Jean Topart), and a shyster lawyer Hubert Lavoisier (Michel Bouquet).

The eccentric mother and son fight back by reading the mail before it’s delivered, and with Louis spying on the trio. Louis will also do petty crimes such as vandalize Hubert’s fancy car, puncture the tires of Philippe’s fancy car and put sugar in the butcher’s gas tank. The beautiful postal clerk, Henriette Uriel (Pauline Lafont), is fond of Louis and vies for his attention by offering him her body, treating him to an expensive dinner in the town’s best restaurant and helping him spy on his tormentors.

Unorthodox, imperious detective Jean Lavardin (Jean Poiret) comes on the case after a homicide is reported, as the butcher is killed in a traffic accident caused by the sugar in his gas tank. Soon it’s discovered that Delphine, the wealthy wife of Philippe, is missing, supposedly, in Switzerland, after telling the lawyer she will no longer back their FILAMO realty deal for ethical reasons and is seeking a divorce; the mistress of Hubert’s, the slutty Anna Foscarie (Caroline Cellier) and Delphine’s best friend, soon is also mysteriously missing; and there’s another car accident and the body is burned beyond recognition but Philippe identifies it as his wife Delphine. Things get stirred up by the inspector’s intensive investigative methods, where he’s not afraid of banging around the suspects to gain evidence and prying into all the secrets of the town.

The character study is magnificently handled, with Louis and Henriette being a charmingly youthful exuberant couple and the genial but tough-minded inspector being a one of a kind character who makes John Wayne look soft in comparison. It only bogs down a bit with the resolution of the murder story being a shade on the routine side.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”