Color of Lies, The (1999)

A man is accused of being a paedophilic killer in Chabrol’s effortlessly-mounted small-town crime mystery, shot with breezy naturalism by the acclaimed cinematographer Eduardo Serra. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,533

Dir. Claude Chabrol
1999 | France | Crime/Drama | 113 mins | 1.66:1 | French
Not rated – likely to be NC16 for some sexual references and mature theme

Cast: Sandrine Bonnaire, Jacques Gamblin, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi
Plot: When a young girl is found raped and murdered in a slumbering fishing community, the newly-appointed female chief of police identifies René, a washed-up artist as the primary suspect. His seemingly devoted wife supports him in the face of rumors, while conducting an illicit liaison with a writer.
Awards: Nom. for Golden Bear (Berlinale)
International Sales: MK2

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Lies & Deception
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

This is one of the numerous crime mysteries that Claude Chabrol directed over the decades.  Although he rarely hit stratospheric heights as a filmmaker as compared to some of his New Wave compatriots, the French auteur also rarely disappoints.

The Color of Lies is another of his effortlessly-mounted small-town dramas involving murder and investigation.  While there are requisite twists and turns in the narrative, Chabrol largely plays them down here in favour of allowing the characters to ‘be in the present’. 

Employing the acclaimed cinematographer Eduardo Serra (who would work with Chabrol on several more films) to achieve just that, the film has a sense of breezy naturalism to it.  It is at times almost too genial to behold, especially when the inciting incident is the rape and killing of a young girl on the way home from an art class. 

“Thank God lies exist. Society would be hell to live in otherwise.”

As the shocked townfolks try to come to terms with this horrific news, a newly-appointed police chief (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi in a chirpy role) comes under pressure to solve the case. 

The main suspect is the deceased’s art teacher, who denies any wrongdoing; his wife (Sandrine Bonnaire, who co-won Best Actress with Isabelle Huppert at the 1995 Venice Film Festival for Chabrol’s masterful La ceremonie) also has faith in her husband’s innocence, if only barely. 

As allegations mount and rumours fly, Chabrol gives us a work that is more about exploring the tenuousness of human relationships than about case solving.  Lies, deception and irrational fear combine to create ambiguity.  Within this ambiguity, The Color of Lies shows us that clarity of mind can only emerge when there is absolute trust in one another.

Grade: B+


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