Inspector Lavardin

The recent success of Claude Chabrol's STORY OF WOMEN and MADAME BOVARY, both starring Isabelle Huppert, helped bring about the belated US release of two of the director's formerly overlooked efforts, 1987's THE CRY OF THE OWL and the previous year's INSPECTOR LAVARDIN. A deliciously entertaining sequel to the French hit POULET AU VINAIGRE, INSPECTOR LAVARDIN...read more

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The recent success of Claude Chabrol's STORY OF WOMEN and MADAME BOVARY, both starring Isabelle Huppert, helped bring about the belated US release of two of the director's formerly overlooked efforts, 1987's THE CRY OF THE OWL and the previous year's INSPECTOR LAVARDIN. A deliciously

entertaining sequel to the French hit POULET AU VINAIGRE, INSPECTOR LAVARDIN continues the adventures of a most unorthodox police detective, played by the late Jean Poiret.

Raoul Mons (Jacques Dacqmine) is a pious, portly writer of boring novels who, as the film begins, is seen throwing his considerable weight behind the banning of a sacreligious play in his provincial town. The next day he is found dead, face down and naked on some rocks by the sea, with the word

"pig" scrawled across his back.

Inspector Lavardin begins his inquiry into the murder by interrogating the family, consisting of twice-widowed Helene (Bernadette Lafont), also an old flame of Lavardin's; Veronique (Hermine Claire), her teenage daughter by her equally tragic previous marriage; and her indolent gay brother Claude

(Jean-Claude Brialy), a widower who spends his time creating meticulously painted sculptures of the eyes of the famous. None of these puts up even a pretense of grief for the late Mons, whom Helene married for money when the death of her first husband left her bankrupt, and who was despised by

both Veronique and Claude. The group of possible suspects eventually extends to include a sleazy disco owner (Jean-Luc Bideau), from whom Mons rented a bachelor's pad equipped with a video camera mounted over the bed; and a stagehand with the banned theatrical troupe, who is apparently Claude's

paid lover.

As he did in POULET AU VINAIGRE, Lavardin shows little regard for the presumption of innocence--much less basic civil rights--as he bullies and threatens his way to the truth. Once he has completed his recreation of the crime, he extends his role to judge and jury, framing the innocent and

absolving the guilty according to his personal code of justice. All this is based on his finding that the real villain of the piece was none other than the late Mons himself.

Though not among his greatest works, INSPECTOR LAVARDIN is typically Chabrolian in its jovial skewering of middle-class pretensions. As usual, Chabrol's characters affect a moral rectitude quite at odds with their underlying swinishness. Ironically, Lavardin uses his detective's shield as a cover

for his own abusive tactics, the only difference being that he is on the side of law and order.

INSPECTOR LAVARDIN lacks the sense of outrage that characterizes Chabrol's best work. On the other hand, it has an exquisitely unfussy, serene style that echoes the late films of Hitchcock and Bunuel. Chabrol shares with Hitchcock a delight in unfolding a devious, well-crafted suspense narrative,

as well as an ambivalence about police and other figures of societal authority. With Bunuel he shares the wry amusement of an aging enfant terrible who finally recognizes that he has himself become a pillar of the bourgeoisie he so despises.

Poiret plays Lavardin with a no-nonsense earthiness that recalls the great Jean Gabin. Lafont worked with the director in his first film, LE BEAU SERGE, and Brialy in his second, LES COUSINS, contributing to the impression that INSPECTOR LAVARDIN is the work of a group of old friends and

comfortably kindred spirits. (Adult situations.)

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