Chabrol was no stranger to Hitchcockian mystery-dramas and this is one of his better outings centering on the masks that people wear to hide their true selves.
Dir. Claude Chabrol
1987 | France | Drama/Mystery/Crime | 100 mins | 1.66:1 | French
Not rated – likely to be PG13 for some sexual references
Cast: Philippe Noiret, Robin Renucci, Anne Brochet
Plot: Hired to write a biography of a television personality, a reporter spends a few days at the man’s country estate with the eccentric extended family.
Awards: Nom. for Golden Bear (Berlinale)
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
Claude Chabrol was no stranger to Hitchcockian mystery-dramas and Masques is one of his better outings from the 1980s; in fact, I enjoyed this slightly more than the twin pair of Inspector Lavardin flicks—Cop au vin (1985) and Inspecteur Lavardin (1986)—that preceded it.
Starring a bubbly Philippe Noiret (most famous for his role in 1988’s Cinema Paradiso) who plays Christian, a television host-cum-personality who accepts an invite from Roland, a reporter interested to pen his biography.
They retreat to Christian’s summer house, but soon Roland, with a motive of his own, realises that dark secrets are being kept under wraps, no more embodied than in Catherine, the mysterious young lady in the house, played wonderfully by Anne Brochet in her acting debut.
“It’s very amusing to live several lives at once.”
The French title is translated into “Masks” and it is apparent that Chabrol is trying to concoct a narrative centering on the masks that people wear to hide their true selves.
The public mask of Christian as a television host; or the private mask of Catherine (her distinctive sunglasses a visual motif in itself) to the outside world; and of course, the mask of Roland, his name a pseudonym.
Chabrol’s firm grasp of suspense elements, particularly scenes of the clandestine meetings between Catherine and Roland as personal truths begin to emerge (not to mention the burgeoning romance between them), is what makes the film more engaging than it ought to be.
It is not difficult to see how Masques would play out in its final act, but the fun is to see how Chabrol effortlessly brings the story to a close.