Alain Robbe-Grillet plays more visual and aural montage mind games in THE MAN WHO LIES, a cinematic showcase for a young Jean-Louis Trintignant out on Blu-ray from Redemption Films.
On the run from soldiers, Boris Varissa (Trintignant, Michael Haneke's AMOUR) arrives in a remote village and overhears stories about local resistance hero Jean Robin (Ivan Mistrík) – who vanished and is believed to be either dead or hiding across the border – and the wife and sister at the local castle who have been awaiting his return for the last three years. He travels to the castle – where the loneliness and isolation of bride Laura (Zuzana Kocúriková), sister Sylvia (Sylvie Turbová), and chambermaid Maria (Sylvie Bréal) have given a sexual charge to childish games like "blind man's bluff" – posing as an associate of Jean, spinning a story about helping the wounded man go into hiding after they had been betrayed by other members of the resistance. His story is met with skepticism and he is sent on his way, but he takes a room at the local inn builds upon the narrative from information gathered from the young barmaid (providing entertainment for her in the process). He gets a message to return to the castle for something he forgot and meets up with Maria who wants to hear more of his story. Knowing that Sylvia is spying, he adds the twist that Jean was a traitor who set up his collaborators. He subsequently confesses to an incensed Sylvia – for whom photographs of her hero brother have become a fetish substituting for possible incestuous desires – that it was he who in fact betrayed Jean who managed to escape and has in turn been tracking Boris to kill him. These stories – which may be true, paranoid ravings, or an actor's performance – gain him access to the women's beds and he then sets about conquering Laura with the confession that it was he who murdered Jean. Boris' stories turn in on themselves as he discovers evidence corroborating his involvement with Jean, who may himself have returned to town intent on revenge.
Robbe-Grillet's final black-and-white film, THE MAN WHO LIES can be seen as a sequel of sorts to TRANS-EUROP-EXPRESS with Trintignant once again "performing" a character (although this time, he modifies his character and supplements the narrative he discovers from the other characters rather than the onscreen machinations of Robbe-Grillet as filmmaker in the earlier film). There is also a throwaway anecdote about a duplicitous collaborator named Eva who was found strangled in her bed. Although we know that the film is another game between the director and his audience rather than an attempt to tell a resistance story, THE MAN WHO LIES is compelling due to Trintignant's center stage performance, Robbe-Grillet's eye (via cameraman Igor Luther) for beautiful women and the fetishes he, they, and Trintignant enact upon them (blindfolds, death rituals, a hint of lesbianism, and a dash of sadomasochism). Whether Boris is ultimately telling the truth or not, it is arguable that he could be telling the story for the purpose of seducing each of the women or seducing an audience in general whether he's a just an actor or a paranoid madman. He seems susceptible to delusion either alone or in company, and it could be argued that he is courting death claiming association to someone who might be a war hero or a traitor making slanderous claims or alerting his enemies to his possible survival. The director's wife Catherine Robbe-Grillet has a small but pivotal role as a local chemist.
Released theatrically stateside by Grove Press – which published translations of Robbe-Grillet's novels – offshoot Evergreen Films and long available only as a 16mm-sourced bootleg with subtitles that were hard to read against light backgrounds, THE MAN WHO LIES received an HD remaster in Italy a few years ago and was released on barebones DVD in that country with French and Italian audio only (a Czech release featured English subtitles but only a Czech-dubbed soundtrack). Redemption Films' dual-layer 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC Blu-ray is derived from a newer HD master that first appeared on a French boxed set of the director's complete works (alas without English subtitles), and is presumably what The British Film Institute will be using for their Blu-ray/DVD combo boxed set. Photographed in black and white with intentionally high contrast exteriors and heavy grain in the forest sequences, the Blu-ray transfer more cleanly renders the cinematography compared to the Italian DVD. The Italian DVD's cover stated the aspect ratio as 1.66:1, but both HD masters are framed at 1.33:1 and the compositions look accurate and elegantly-framed with just the right amount of off-kilter framing to confirm that it's an art film. The French LPCM 1.0 mono track is clean, giving a wonderful presence to Michel Fano's sound design and "sound scoring". The optional English subtitles are free of errors.
As with the other Redemption Robbe-Grillet discs, the film's major extra is an interview with the director conducted by French TV presenter Frederic Taddei (35:21) in which he discusses the project's origins as an invitation from the Slovakian literary director – who did the Czech translation of Robbe-Grillet's L'IMMORTELLE – to do a film in that country. It became a French co-production because of Robbe-Grillet's stipulation that his lead be French (he wanted to do another film with Trintignant). His initial inspirations came from the country's war memorials (the producer told him that many of those named were traitors but that fact was ignored because the memorials are not about the war itself but about founding the new regime), and the ruined castle location that was actually home to a Hungarian baroness awaiting the return of her resistance fighter brother who had long ago disappeared (Taddei points out that Robbe-Grillet was not in the resistance, and the author connects such movements to origin myths of the republics that arise in resistance to occupations citing Joan of Arc as an earlier example). For the story itself – which he himself admits to not getting – he cites Kafka's THE CASTLE with many examples as well as Borges' "The Theme of the Traitor and the Hero" (which Bernardo Bertolucci had utilized for THE SPIDER'S STRATAGEM in 1970). He also discusses working with composer/sound designer Michel Fano, and his dislike of traditional scoring. The disc also includes the film's theatrical trailer (3:21) as well as trailers for EDEN AND AFTER, TRANS-EUROP-EXPRESS, and a 2014 promo for "The Alain Robbe-Grillet Collection". (Eric Cotenas)
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