Twisting the Knife: Four Films by Claude Chabrol (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: May 01, 2023
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Twisting the Knife: Four Films by Claude Chabrol (Blu-ray Review)


Claude Chabrol

Release Date(s)

1997/1999/2000/2003 (April 26, 2022)


MK2 (Arrow Video)
  • Film/Program Grade: See Below
  • Video Grade: See Below
  • Audio Grade: See Below
  • Extras Grade: A
  • Overall Grade: A-

Twisting the Knife (Blu-ray)

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Of the five Cahiers du Cinéma critics who inaugurated the French New Wave, Claude Chabrol was the most comfortable working in a commercial milieu. That didn’t always sit well with his former colleagues, but it didn’t make Chabrol’s films any less personal or idiosyncratic. It just meant that Chabrol followed his own muse, one that wasn’t limited by an arbitrary set of external principles. It was also a sign of the love/hate relationship that Chabrol had with his own upbringing; his films satirized and even openly attacked the bourgeois values with which he had been raised. It’s that self-loathing that makes his work so interesting. Since Chabrol made thrillers of various sorts all throughout his career, he’s sometimes been called the French Alfred Hitchcock. Yet if there’s any truth to that comparison, Chabrol was a Hitchcock with the acidly satirical tongue of early Jean Renoir. He never let the members of his own class off the hook regardless of what genre in which he was working.

Arrow Video has collected four more of Chabrol’s late-period films into a boxed set titled Twisting the Knife. The collection includes The Swindle, The Color of Lies, Nightcap, and The Flower of Evil, as well as a genuinely impressive collection of extras that combines new and archival material. Each film is on its own disc in its own individual case, all of which are housed within a hard bound keep case. The set also includes an 80-page booklet featuring essays by Sean Hogan, Brad Stevens, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, Pamela Hutchinson, and Catherine Dousteyssier-Khoze, as well as very limited notes about the transfers. The masters for each film were supplied by MK2, and while there are no details available regarding the elements that were used, Arrow notes that The Swindle, Nightcap, and The Flower of Evil all feature “new 4K restorations,” so presumably The Color of Lies utilizes an older 2K scan.

The Swindle (aka Rien ne va plus) was Chabrol’s 50th feature film, and rather than making any kind of a deep statement of principles to mark the anniversary, he subverted expectations by offering a lighthearted thriller in the mold of The Sting instead. He was no stranger to comedy, of course, having even turned to open parody in films like the underrated Blue Panther (aka Marie-Chantal contre le docteur Kha). However, the humor in The Swindle is of a much more subtle and character-driven sort. Chabrol’s screenplay follows two small-time confidence tricksters, Betty (Isabella Huppert) and Victor (Michel Serrault), as they ply their illicit trade. The older Victor is the cautious one of the pair, always being careful to minimize attention by never being too greedy, as he reminds Betty when they scam a small businessman:

“I left too much money for him to notice it was missing. He had more than 20,000 in his wallet. It wouldn’t even occur to him that he’s been had. It’s the principle behind taxes, but they’re more subtle. The tax people are geniuses.”

Betty, on the other hand, yearns to make a bigger score. She goes off on her own to seduce the courier for a money laundering operation, moving in and out of Victor’s orbit in the process. That strains the relationship between the two of them, but it also puts both of their lives at risk once the big-time crooks realize that they’ve been swindled. Yet Victor’s modest principles may end up saving the day after all. The Swindle also stars François Cluzet and Jean-François Balmer.

Of course, Chabrol was himself no stranger to playing confidence games, and however frivolous that The Swindle may seem on its surface, there’s always more going on than meets the eye. Just who is swindling whom remains an open question throughout the film, all the way to the coda at the embittered end. Chabrol’s narrative is highly elliptical, sometimes eliding key information in order to keep the audience off balance—at one point, he resorts to an odd jump cut in order to viewers uncertain. Even the relationship between Betty and Victor is left open to interpretation, never quite resolving the nature of the bond between the two of them. While The Swindle may seem to lack the darkly satirical edge of many of the director’s other films, it’s always a mistake to underestimate the ways in which a master trickster like Chabrol was able to manipulate his own audiences.

Chabrol followed up the relatively playful The Swindle with The Color of Lies (aka Au coeur du mensonge), a much darker examination of deceit and jealousy. In some respects, it’s a return to the morally ambiguous world of novelist Dominique Roulet’s unscrupulous police investigator Jean Lavardin, which Chabrol had explored a few years earlier in Cop au vin and Inspector Lavardin. Yet in this case, it’s not necessarily the police who are the unscrupulous ones.

Chabrol collaborated on the screenplay for The Color of Lies with Odile Barski, who had previously worked with the director on films like Le cri du hibou and Violette. When a young girl is raped and murdered near the seaside city of Saint-Malo, the last person to see her alive was her art tutor Rene Sterne (Jacques Gamblin), a once-successful painter who has lost his muse. He naturally becomes one of the prime suspects in the investigation led by the newly appointed police chief Frederique Lesage (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi). While the residents of the town treat Sterne with suspicion, his wife Vivienne (Sandrine Bonnaire) stands by his side. Yet her loyalty is tested by her attraction to the flamboyant journalist Germain-Roland Desmot (Antoine de Caunes), and Rene’s own moral compass will be put to an even bigger test. The Color of Lies also stars Bernard Verley and Bulle Ogier.

Saint-Malo is surrounded by walls that were built to protect the city that lies within, and Chabrol’s choice of location was no accident. The superficial bourgeois morality in The Color of Lies is just a veneer that hides the layers of deceit that lies beneath it. Regardless of who may have been guilty of the murder that set the events of the film into motion, there aren’t very many innocents to be found here. In that sense, The Color of Lies is reminiscent of Blue Velvet, where the superficial American middle-class values had a heart of darkness teeming beneath them. The walls of Saint-Malo are much like the green grass of Lumberton; they’re little more than a facade. Those who have been touched by the hidden darkness in The Color of Lies will have to live with it for the rest of their lives, and learn to accept it on their own terms. The bourgeois morality in Chabrol’s films is always a compromised one.

For Nightcap (aka Merci pour le chocolat), Chabrol adapted Charlotte Armstrong’s 1948 novel The Chocolate Cobweb, which placed him comfortably back into Hitchcockian territory. The screenplay by Chabrol and Caroline Eliacheff alters many details such as the characters and the settings, but it still follows the broad strokes of Armstrong’s story. Yet as always for Chabrol, the devil is in those details—specifically, in the ways that these characters interact within their bourgeois milieu: the concert pianist André Polonski (Jacques Dutronc), his heiress wife Mika (Isabelle Huppert), their effete son Guillaume (Rodolphe Pauly), a young aspiring pianist (Anna Mouglalis), and her mother Louise (Brigitte Catillon). Jeanne discovers that a mistake was made in the hospital where she was born, and for a brief time, the nurses had mixed her up with Guillaume, who was born the same day. While her mother assures her that the error was corrected, Jeanne becomes obsessed with the idea that she could be someone else’s daughter, so she ends up ingratiating herself into Guillaume’s family, and becoming André’s pupil at the same time. Her presence ends up setting events in motion that will end up revealing the true secrets behind this polite bourgeois façade.

The French title Merci pour le chocolat (“thank you for the chocolate”) and the English-language title Nightcap may seem to have little in common, but they both provide cheeky clues into the nature of the story. Regardless of whether or not comparisons between Chabrol and Hitchcock are entirely accurate, in this case, there’s little doubt that the real antecedent for Nightcap is as much Suspicion as it is The Chocolate Cobweb. Hitchcock’s film preceded Armstrong’s novel by seven years, so it’s entirely possible that he influenced her story as well. (A few years later, she would go on to contribute some scripts for Alfred Hitchcock Presents.) Nightcap is indeed a web of secrets and deceit, spun out of the confections that Mika’s family business has long produced. When relationships are built on lies, it’s difficult to know who to trust. Huppert in particular couldn’t have been better cast for this story, since she’s always been brilliant at playing characters who hide their seething emotions behind a deceptively calm mask. Huppert’s beautifully impassive face becomes emblematic of the bourgeois repression in Nightcap that drives all of the lies and suspicions in the film. It’s no accident that she became something of a muse for Chabrol in the later stages of his career.

The Flower of Evil (aka La fleur du mal) opens with a rare explicitly Hitchcockian flourish from Chabrol: an elaborate tracking shot that begins outside of a home, goes through the house, up the stairs, down the hall, past a room with a woman sitting pensively on the floor, and into a room where a body lies next to a bed, his bloody hand apparently clutching the covers above him. Of course, it’s not actually a single shot, but rather a sequence of them, yet Chabrol felt no need to disguise that fact through elaborate transitions like Hitchcock did in Rope; he trusted instead in the forward momentum of the camera to carry the viewer through the cuts. Chabrol being Chabrol, the whole sequence is essentially an inversion of what a tracking shot like this is normally trying to accomplish—it’s the journey of his roving camera that’s significant, not so much the destination. The briefly-glimpsed dead body will indeed be the terminus of The Flower of Evil’s narrative, but not before generations of secrets and lies have been unraveled. The past that haunts this bourgeois family will come to have great bearing on the present, as is indicated by Chabrol’s choice of Damia’s 1941 recording of Un souvenir to accompany the opening scene:

“A memory
Comes to you in your dreams,
but it’s not what it seems,
and haunts you for eternity.
A memory
Has all the tenderness
Of those days of giddiness,
That seem to fly by.
One evening, you went away,
And I felt that I’d die.
But I’ve known since that day,
That people can lie.”

The Flower of Evil was Chabrol’s third collaboration with screenwriter Caroline Eliacheff, in this case working from of a story by Louise L. Lambrichs. Their basic inspiration was none other than Lizzie Borden, the American woman who was tried but acquitted of murdering her family with an axe, and ended up living the rest of her life shunned by those around her. Chabrol was fascinated by the idea that if she was actually guilty of the murders, then living such a life must have been a form of punishment of its own—those kinds of memories would indeed haunt you for eternity. In The Flower of Evil, it’s the elderly Aunt Line (Suzanne Flon) who may or may not have done something terrible in her past, but the ramifications from that have haunted her entire family: Gérard (Bernard Le Coq), his second wife Anne (Nathalie Baye), his son François (Benoît Magimel), and Anne’s daughter Michèle (the luminous Mélanie Doutey). The sins of the past have been visited upon this family, and they’ve been carried forward into new sins of their own. For Chabrol, the rot that lies at the heart of the bourgeois values will always come to the fore. Yet in The Flower of Evil, that corrupt system will end up correcting itself, albeit in a perverse fashion. Justice is a fickle mistress, and Aunt Line’s past is allowed to atone for itself by ameliorating the present. Of course, that’s just establishing new memories to haunt the other members of her family for eternity, but if there’s one thing that’s ubiquitous in all of Chabrol’s work, it’s that people can lie.

The Swindle, The Color of Lies, and The Flower of Evil were all shot by cinematographer Eduardo Serra, while Nightcap was shot by Renato Berta instead. All four films were produced on 35 mm film with spherical lenses, and framed at 1.66:1 for their theatrical releases. As noted previously, The Swindle, Nightcap, and The Flower of Evil all features recent 4K restorations provided by MK2, and their transfers share similar characteristics between them. Everything is quite clean, with little to no damage of any kind visible, and the grain looks refined, with no noise or other artifacts from the encoding to mar it. The colors and contrast are generally quite strong, especially on The Swindle, and while the timing for that one leans slightly more to the warm side, it’s never excessively so. The reds and the blues in The Swindle are particularly rich relative to the other two, but nothing seems out of place on any of them. Do note that the timing on all three of these doesn’t necessarily match that of previous releases, and there’s a slight teal push here that may bother some people. Which is the most accurate? That’s for others to judge, but unless you’re intimately familiar with the timing of the older home video versions, and can’t erase them from your memory, you should find little to complain about here.

The Color of Lies is the odd man out in this collection, with an older master that has a couple of noticeable deficiencies compared to the rest. It’s definitely had some sharpening applied to it, and that gives the grain an unnatural appearance, sometimes almost looking more like noise than like real grain. Otherwise, the colors and the contrast are fine, although the darkest scenes are frequently lacking in detail. Taken on its own, while this may be a dated master, it’s not a bad one, but the high quality of the newer ones does make it stand out a bit.

Audio for The Swindle and The Color of Lies is offered in French 2.0 stereo LPCM only, while Nightcap and The Flower of Evil both offer French 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, as well as 2.0 stereo LPCM. In all cases, removable English subtitles are included. The Swindle was released theatrically in Dolby SR, while the rest were released in both Dolby Stereo and Dolby Digital. That means that they’re all surround tracks, with the 2.0 versions being matrix encoded, and the 5.1 being discrete instead. For The Swindle and The Color of Lies, there are some light ambient effects in the surrounds, like the sounds of crowds, traffic, or the lapping of waves along the shore, and there are some directionalized effects across the front channels. Nightcap is far more focused on the front soundstage, especially the center channel, and aside from the stereo spread provide by the score, it’s effectively mono for most of the film. The Flower of Evil has the most engaging soundtrack of the four, with the surrounds providing a greater level of immersion, and many more actively directionalized sound effects. In every case, the dialogue is clear and comprehensible, and the music from Claude Chabrol’s son Matthieu is supported well in all of the various mixes.


The copious extras that Arrow has compiled for Twisting the Knife are spread across all four discs:


  • Audio Commentary by Barry Forshaw and Sean Hogan
  • Chabrol’s "Soap Bubble" (HD – 14:36)
  • Film as a Family Affair (HD – 38:11)
  • Introduction by Joël Magny (Upscaled SD – 2:28)
  • Scene Commentaries by Claude Chabrol (Upscaled SD – 24:20, 3 in all)
  • Behind the Scenes (Upscaled SD – 8:22)
  • A Conversation with Isabelle Huppert (Upscaled SD – 25:38)
  • Theatrical Trailer (Upscaled SD – 1:45)
  • Stills Gallery (HD, 7 in all)

The commentary is by Barry Forshaw, author of multiple books about cinematic and literary genres such as Italian Cinema: Arthouse to Exploitation and Crime Fiction: YA Reader’s Guide. He’s joined by filmmaker and author Sean Hogan, whose has spent plenty of time exploring genre himself with films like The Devil’s Business. They discuss Chabrol’s sometimes fractious relationship with Cahiers du Cinéma and other critics, the nature of his filmmaking (they reject the notion of him being the French Hitchcock), and the unusual nature of The Swindle as well—both in terms of its lighthearted style, and the fact that it strays a bit from Chabrol’s favored bourgeois milieu. Chabrol’s “Soap Bubble” is a video essay by Catherine Dousteyssier-Khoze, author of Claude Chabrol’s Aesthetics of Opacity. She examines the playful nature of what Chabrol described as one of his ephemeral soap bubbles, and discusses the way that the film plays games with the viewer while the characters are playing games with each other. Film as a Family Affair is an interview with the director’s stepdaughter Cécile Maistre-Chabrol, who served as an assistant director on fourteen of his films, including The Swindle. The Introduction by Joël Magny is a brief overview by film scholar Joël Magny, originally created for the MK2 Region 2 DVD release of the film. The Scene Commentaries by Claude Chabrol also came from that MK2 release, with the director watching and discussing three different scenes, including the confrontation at the finale. Behind the Scenes is brief making-of featurette. Finally, A Conversation with Isabelle Huppert is an interview with the actress from 2020 that provides an overview of her experiences working with Chabrol.


  • Audio Commentary by Barry Forshaw and Sean Hogan
  • Nothing Is Sacred (HD – 13:57)
  • Introduction by Joel Magny (Upscaled SD – 2:33)
  • Scene Commentaries by Claude Chabrol (Upscaled SD – 20:08, 4 in all)
  • Behind the Scenes (Upscaled SD – 25:47)
  • Theatrical Trailer (Upscaled SD – 1:14)
  • Stills Gallery (HD, 8 in all)

Forshaw and Hogan return to do the commentary for The Color of Lies. They make the good point that it’s too easy to undervalue filmmakers as prolific as Chabrol was, and that’s one reason why his late-period films tend to be underrated. Once again, they point out how he was really a very different director than Hitchcock was—Chabrol was much less interested in the kind of closure that Hitchcock provided. In that regard, they also spend some time analyzing the ambiguities in The Color of Lies. Nothing Is Sacred is a visual essay by Scout Tafoya that examines the ways in which the works of art in the film reflect on Chabrol’s own legacy as an artist. There’s also another Joël Magny introduction and a set of Scene Commentaries, this time looking at four different sequences. Finally, the Behind the Scenes is another making-of featurette, delving into the production in a bit more detail than the previous one did.


  • Audio Commentary by Justine Smith
  • When I Pervert Good... (HD – 11:16)
  • Introduction by Joel Magny (Upscaled SD – 3:11)
  • Scene Commentaries by Claude Chabrol (Upscaled SD – 43:48, 4 in all)
  • Isabelle Huppert, “Heroine Chabrolienne” (Upscaled – SD 7:06)
  • Interview with Jacques Dutronc (Upscaled SD – 32:02)
  • Behind the Scenes (Upscaled SD – 26:05)
  • Screen Test for Anna Mouglalis (Upscaled SD – 10:33)
  • Theatrical Trailer (Upscaled SD – 1:39)
  • Image Gallery (HD, 11 in all)

The commentary for Nightcap is with Canadian film critic Justine Smith, who describes herself as a huge fan of Chabrol, and says that she’s happy to be commenting on his 52nd film. She points out that the film is actually Chabrol’s second adaptation of a book by Charlotte Armstrong, and spends time analyzing how it fits into the director’s oeuvre. She does an interesting job of pointing out the ironies in the ending, and how it plays with the sympathies of the viewer. When I Pervert Good... is another visual essay by Scout Tafoya, this time examining the ways in which Nightcap is emblematic of late-period Chabrol. There’s also another Joël Magny introduction and a set of Scene Commentaries. Isabelle Huppert, “Heroine Chabrolienne” is an archival interview with the actress where she talks about the characters that she has played for Chabrol, including Mika in Nightcap. The extended Interview with Jacques Dutronc features the singer and songwriter sitting at a piano and smoking a cigar while he discusses what it was like working with Chabrol, and the nature of music in film. The Behind the Scenes is another fairly detailed look at the making of the film. Finally, the Screen Test for Anna Mouglalis is a videotaped record of the casting session for the actress, intercut with the same scenes from the final film.


  • Audio Commentary by Farran Smith Nehme
  • Behind the Masks (HD – 14:30)
  • Introduction by Joel Magny (Upscaled SD – 3:31)
  • Scene Commentaries by Claude Chabrol (Upscaled SD – 49:29, 6 in all)
  • Interview with Catherine Eliacheff (Upscaled SD – 24:47)
  • Theatrical Trailer (Upscaled SD – 2:14)
  • Image Gallery (HD, 4 in all)

The commentary for The Flower of Evil is with critic and novelist Farran Smith Nehme, who says that Chabrol is one of her favorite directors, and she opens by analyzing the elaborate tracking shot that opens the film. She points out the ways in which Chabrol can be a subtle filmmaker, and the ways in which he can be obvious, and places the film in context with the rest of his career. (She also calls it his 50th film, which demonstrates that with a director as prolific as Chabrol, who worked in multiple media, there’s not necessarily one correct way to count everything.) Behind the Masks is a video essay by Agnès Poirier, author of Left Bank: Art, Passion, and the Rebirth of Paris, 1940-50. She looks at the literary influences on Chabrol as much as the cinematic ones, and calls him more of a sharp observer than a moral judge. There’s yet another Joël Magny introduction and an extensive set of Scene Commentaries, this time covering half the total running time of the film. Finally, the Interview with Catherine Eliacheff cover the three films on which she worked with Chabrol, including La Cérémonie, Nightcap, and The Flower of Evil.

Arrow’s decision to collect nine total late-period Claude Chabrol films into two different boxed sets (you can find my review of the previous set here) is an interesting one in his case, because while later films from any given director are sometimes dismissed as lesser works, the Cahiers critics always championed late-period efforts from filmmakers like Howard Hawks and Alfred Hitchcock. So, it’s entirely appropriate that one of their own has received such lavish attention from Arrow in both Lies and Deceit and Twisting the Knife. They’re essential collections for fans of French cinema in general, and Chabrol in particular.

- Stephen Bjork

(You can follow Stephen on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook.)



1997, 1999, 2000, 2003, Adrienne Pauly, Agnès Poirier, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, Anna Mouglalis, Antoine de Caunes, Arrow Video, Au cœur du mensonge, Barry Forshaw, Benoît Magimel, Bernard Le Coq, Bernard Verley, Blu-ray, Blu-ray Disc, box set, boxed set, boxset, Brigitte Catillon, Bulle Ogier, Canal Diffusion, Caroline Eliacheff, Catherine Dousteyssier-Khoze, Catherine Eliacheff, Cécile Maistre-Chabrol, Charlotte Armstrong, Claude Chabrol, comedy, crime, drama, Eduardo Serra, Farran Smith Nehme, France, France 2 Cinéma, François Cluzet, Françoise Bertin, French, Henri Attal, Isabelle Huppert, Isolde Barth, Jackie Berroyer, Jacques Dutronc, Jacques Gamblin, Jean Benguigui, Jean-François Balmer, Joël Magny, Justine Smith, La fleur du mal, Louise L Lambrichs, Lydia Andrei, Marin Karmitz, Mathieu Simonet, Matthieu Chabrol, Mélanie Doutey, Merci pour le Chocolat, Michel Robin, Michel Serrault, MK2, MK2 Diffusion, MK2 Productions, Monique Fardoulis, Mony Dalmès, mystery, Nathalie Baye, Nightcap, Odile Barski, Pamela Hutchinson, Pierre Martot, psychological, psychological thriller, Renato Berta, review, Rien ne va plus, Rodolphe Pauly, Sandrine Bonnaire, Scout Tafoya, Sean Hogan, Sibylle Blanc, Stephen Bjork, suspense, Suzanne Flon, The Chocolate Cobweb, The Color of Lies, The Digital Bits, The Flower of Evil, The Swindle, Thomas Chabrol, thriller, Tony Stella, Twisting the Knife, Twisting the Knife Four Films by Claude Chabrol, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Véronique Alain, Yves Verhoeven