It’s not a terrific film but it’s still fun to watch the murder mystery unfold as Chabrol gives us the requisite atmosphere that balances humour with the macabre.
Dir. Claude Chabrol
1985 | France | Crime/Drama/Mystery | 109 mins | 1.66:1 | French
Not rated – likely to be NC16 for nudity and sexual scene
Cast: Jean Poiret, Lucas Belvaux, Stephane Audran
Plot: In a small town, a doctor, a butcher, and a notary need to buy the mailman’s house to close out a major real estate deal. Problem is, he reads everyone’s mail before it is delivered.
Awards: Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes)
International Sales: MK2
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
The most Hitchcockian of the French New Wave auteurs, Claude Chabrol is no stranger to small-town murder mysteries.
In Poulet au vinaigre (or Cop au vin as it was marketed outside of France—well, can you imagine promoting it as ‘Chicken with Vinegar’ stateside?), Chabrol gives us a fun picture that is engrossing with strange but endearing characters populating a narrative that is loose enough to breathe on its terms.
It’s not exactly a terrific whodunit, but neither is it slight by any measure. Chabrol’s attention to atmosphere helps—he balances humour with the macabre, giving us an airy town with stifling interiors.
Characters play around (notably a mailboy and his seductive older colleague), or get played around by an impatient and temperamental inspector investigating the case as Chabrol weaves a story of disappearing women connected to a rich doctor who with several business partners hopes to buy out a landed property owned by the mailboy’s parents.
Utterly perturbed by these snobbish men who want to kick them out of their home, the mailboy and his wheelchair-bound mother devise a cheeky plan to outsmart them—by secretly reading their letters.
There seems to be a lot going on, and the lives of the characters might feel more intricately related than the film’s rather straightforward plotting would care to admit, but Poulet au vinaigre doesn’t pretend to be a sophisticated yarn.
The kooky inspector, probably the most memorable of all the characters, would return eponymously in Chabrol’s follow-up, Inspector Lavadin (1986).