Thursday, May 17, 2007

Violette / The Comedy of Power

Posted on Thu, May 17, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Violette / The Comedy of Power
Studio: Koch Lorber
WorkNameSort: Violette / The Comedy of Power

It may not be as famous an art-cinema pairing as Federico Fellini and Giulietta Masina, Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina or Michelangelo Antonioni and Monica Vitti, but the collaborative work of director Claude Chabrol and Isabelle Huppert has produced some of the most exquisite films of both professionals' careers, through three decades and seven pictures. Koch Lorber just released both the first and the latest of this ongoing relationship, 1978's Violette and 2006's Comedy of Power.

Both films are based partially on true events, and both include more proof, as if we needed it, that Huppert is one of our greatest living movie stars and unquestionably the sexiest actress over 50. She's sex personified in Violette, the scandalous story of a 19-year-old, syphilis-carrying harlot who kills her father in 1930s France. Time Out London called this a Chabrol film for people who don't like Chabrol films, which is true of the fractured anti-chronology of the structure (which owes a debt to Alain Resnais) and the brilliantly inexpressive, Cannes award-winning performance of Huppert (indebted to Robert Bresson's unemotive blank slates). But the mechanics of murder and the allure of sex have always been prominent fascinations for Chabrol, and Violette contains them both, if a bit more languidly than the director's preferred suspensers. Like Betty, this is Chabrol at his most dour, but he does find some humor in the media circus toward the end.

The DVD transfer, however, is unacceptably shoddy. There seems to be no digital enhancement aside from the subtitles. The fuzzy image looks to be converted directly from VHS, and while I couldn't find proof of the movie's original aspect ratio, this version appears to be cropped from 1:85:1 to a full-frame pan-and-scan, rendering Chabrol's precise compositions ugly and incomplete.

There are no such problems with Comedy of Power, a sterling release of one of the director's most splendid pictures. One penetrating stare from Huppert and it's easy to turn to mush, particularly when she plays such a high-powered character: a Parisian judge investigating a corporate fraud case with ties to big government. Chabrol admits the film was inspired by the Elf-Aquitaine bank fraud scandal, which The Guardian called 'the biggest fraud inquiry in Europe since World War II.â?� To cover himself, Chabrol inserted a cheeky caveat into the film's opening frames stating that the story is entirely fictive and that any resemblance to actual events is, of course, purely coincidental.

But the movie is less a biographical polemic than a character study of an overworked woman whose obsession with ferreting out the truth takes a destructive toll on her marriage. Chabrol comments on how the political affects the personal (and vice versa) by deftly balancing the two, concluding the film with one of his finest anticlimaxes.

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