Director Claude Chabrol returned to the provincial French policier genre in 1985 with his take on Dominique Roulet’s novel Une mort en trop, introducing a new detective character that would later return for a sequel and a number of TV movies. Here, Cop au Vin (also known as Poulet au vinaigre in a French tongue-in-cheek joke) finds the director managing a number of shady individuals in a French town who are sincerely up to no good, attempting to remove Louis (Lucas Belvaux) and his mother (Stéphane Audran) from their estate in a business maneuver that involves half the town’s elite. Unfortunately, the business leads to murder and deception – including the disappearance of a major player in the business, Delphine Morasseau (Josephine Chaplin) and the mysterious death of her friend Anna (Caroline Cellier). This all calls for the great Inspector Lavardin (Jean Poiret) to come in to investigate using his morally-ambiguous methods.
Chabrol’s direction is deliberately slow, building various elements of intrigue into subtle meetings with the various characters of this town. In general, most of the town’s elites are up to no good in some manner or other, with multiple elements of infidelity and dirty laundry being aired throughout the initial setup. For a good chunk of the time, Cop au Vin centers on Louis and his mother – he’s a mailman who brings home the town’s letters to read with his needy disabled matriarch to get the good gossip. It’s clear Louis means well, and is mostly interested in protecting his own homestead, but Chabrol also emphasizes that not one individual in the group is devoid of skeletons in the closet.
This makes for an interesting watch once Inspector Lavardin comes in about halfway through the film; while Chabrol recenters a lot of the focus to him, Cop au Vin is still relatively infatuated with Louis as the best of the devilish characters here, and the viewer is meant to hope he succeeds despite some nefarious accidental mishap he helped create. The investigation is fairly placid, but never would one consider it outright boring; Lavardin has enough quirks thanks to Poiret’s great acting to keep the viewer invested, and his… questionable police techniques also force the viewer to reconcile with the fact that no one is really that great a person in the film, police detective or not.
While the film doles out a lot of suspects, the fairly derivative plotting of this mystery keeps it from achieving a surprising conclusion. In fact, it’s all rather by the book, and even the reveal of the missing wife is pretty telegraphed. But Cop au Vin is entertaining enough to give a recommendation, if only thanks to the beautiful cinematography and French provincial setting, as well as the comeuppance that all of Chabrol’s worst characters receive in the end.
Full uncompressed screenshots from this Bu-ray.
Cop au Vin gets a Blu-ray release from Arrow Video as part of their Lies & Deceit boxset, which is volume 1 of their Claude Chabrol collection. As such, we will treat this as an individual release, but make note of the additional elements included in the box.
This film received a Blu-ray release back in 2014 by Cohen Media Group as part of a two-film Lavardin collection, and presumably Arrow Video is using that HD transfer for this release as well since neither Cop au Vin nor Inspector Lavardin get new transfers for this release. With that said, even this older HD master is very good, presented in original 1.66:1 aspect ratio with strong overall detail including facial and clothing textures, as well as evident background signage. The color timing is good though does offer a somewhat muted palette. Not much damage or debris is present in this master, and grain scale is kept to a filmic medium body. However, this does occasionally suffer from some grain streaking during camera movement which can become quite noticeable. Overall, though, this is a great transfer.
Audio is presented with an LPCM 2.0 mono French track with optional English subtitles. This sounds strong, with centered emphatic dialogue and a great score from Matthieu Chabrol.
Extra features are mostly ported from past releases, but there are a couple new additions for this release. Primarily, a new audio commentary from film critic Ben Sachs adds some excellent critique to the film, with Sachs diving into some of the subtextual and symbolic elements in Chabrol’s composition. A new interview with film historian Ian Christie discusses Christie’s prior interview with Claude Chabrol (also on this disc), and provides more context about the director. Otherwise, the other features are archival but do add some excellent bulk to this disc.
Also included in the boxset is a booklet of essays that are well worth a read.
High definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation
Original lossless French PCM mono audio
Optional English Subtitles
NEW commentary by film critic Ben Sachs
NEW interview with film historian Ian Christie about the cinema of Claude Chabrol (1080p; 12:35)
Claude Chabrol at the BFI, Chabrol discusses his career in this hour long archival interview conducted onstage at the National Film Theatre in 1994 (1080p; 1:14:35)
Claude Chabrol, Jean Poiret & Stephane Audran in conversation, an archival Swiss TV episode in which the director and cast discuss Cop Au Vin (Poulet au vinaigre) (1080p; 29:38)
Archive introduction by film scholar Joël Magny (1080p; 3:14)
Select scene commentaries by Claude Chabrol (1080p; 21:43)
Theatrical Trailer (1080p; 2:16)
Image Gallery (chapter breaks; 0:24)
This disc in the Lies & Deceit boxset provides a good HD transfer and some new extras to add to features from past releases. Ultimately this is a nice first entry in the volume.
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