Director: Alain Robbe-Grillet
Writer: Alain Robbe-Grillet
Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Ivan Mistrík, and Zuzana Kocúriková
Length: 97 min
Label: Kino Lorber Redemption
Release Date: May 27, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: French: LPCM 2.0
- Interview with Alain Robbe-Grillet
- Original Theatrical Trailer
The film is essentially the story of Boris Varissa…or is it? The fact of the matter is there is no single definitive answer to this question. Alain Robbe-Grillet manipulates narration by having Trintignant as an unreliable narrator, a fact that the audience is able to pick up almost immediately. The film opens with the voice-over narration, explaining that his name is Jean Robin, aka Boris Varissa, aka the Ukrainian, and that he will “try” and tell his story. Even without an understanding of the French language, a conceivable testament to Trintignant’s acting, viewers are alert to subterfuge in the narration. Other than the obvious lies that Varissa spews—in the case of “blending into the crowd” when he is clearly on an empty street, or entering the empty, but really busy, café—his story feels contrived, as if he is making it up on the spot. For the remainder of the film, the audience is at the mercy of the ever-changing narrative tale, leaving the question what is to be believed.
Boiled down, the film follows Varissa as he infiltrates the home of Rodin, now occupied by his estranged wife, sister, father, maid, and servant. Desperately awaiting the return of Rodin from the war, the family is victim to Varissa’s lies. While it is not made explicit, his intentions appear to be to lure the women into sexual domination, and destroy the men who stand in his way. He quickly acts on this goal, and uses his lies as a device to confuse and pacify the women. He is Rodin’s friend, and then he is a traitor, and then a murderer; the lies go on, each one manufactured as a form of supremacy.While many have been quick to criticize the film’s ‘weak plot’, it is not in the typical narrative structure that Robbe-Grillet seems to pay any attention. Rather, Robbe-Grillet is manipulating the act of narration itself, showing the inherent weakness and strengths that narration grants. In this regard, the film is a masterpiece; an exploration and experiment in the act of deciphering truth from fiction. Or perhaps, the film is asking if there is any truth at all in fiction. Can there be truth in fabrication? What is left—very much apparent when you hear Robbe-Grillet’s own assessment of the film, where he exclaims that even he doesn’t understand what it means—is more an experience than a rigid structure and, if you are willing to invest the time, it will invariably mean something vastly different for you as it does for others.
Shot in 4×3 aspect ratio, which contrasts the former two films’ 1.67:1 or widescreen presentations, the film feels slightly more claustrophobic than Robbe-Grillet’s other films. While expanding vertically to include the mountainous surroundings, the characters are forced closer to each other by the constricting width. One noticeable difference is that, while not completely absent—especially in some of the scenes involving multiple empty frames, portraits, and mirrors—the labyrinthine visual nature of Robbe-Grillet’s world is substituted for a somewhat more structured reality. Visually the film is a bit easier to digest, but this is deceiving as, while the visual nature may not lie, the narrative is far more convoluted. What we are left with is a labyrinth in the form of story, not necessarily depicted visually.
Further, the cinematography is excellent. The lighting, and the use of black and white, really brings out the deep shadows and contrast of the various settings. To compliment the shots, the editing is dynamic. This is a contender for the most artistic use of editing in all of Robbe-Grillet’s work. Very much influenced by the Soviet style, the film uses a clashing of images and sound to evoke a message that is not necessarily inherent in either isolated element.
The 1080p restoration of the original 1.33:1 image looks quite fantastic. The image is crisp and the contrast is dynamic. There are elements of age related decay, but they are small and hardly detract from the viewing experience. Kino Lorber have done a good job steering away from digital enhancement, as no overt signs of sharpening or DNR filtering are present. What is left is a bold image that leaves enough film grain intact to deliver that cinematic experience.
The audio mix for the film is anything but uniform. Often, there are numerous colliding and contrasting elements in the mix, from gunfire to musical scores, to simple dialogue. However, the restored LPCM 2.0 mix handles the juxtaposed elements brilliantly, leaving a crisp, clean, and dynamic mix that resonates across all the registers.
Similar to the other releases in the series, the special features are sparse, but informative. The thirty minute interview with Robbe-Grillet included on this disc is outstanding. Robbe-Grillet is full of energy and cheer, and his reflection on the film, even in his old age is astute. He offers a lot of insight into the production factors, the inspiration, and what (although vague, even coy) the film means. What emerges as the most fascinating aspect that Robbe-Grillet reveals is the how the film was written. With almost every concrete element in the film there exists an analogue in reality that Robbe-Grillet found fascinating. For instance, the inclusion of Robin’s sister and wife waiting in a castle-esque villa for the return of Robin, found its inspiration in story of a Baroness who, at the time of pre-production, still lived in present day Slovakia awaiting the return of her Brother. Shocked at the story, Robbe-Grillet adapted it into his film.
L’homme qui ment, like almost all of the work of Alain Robbe-Grillet, will not play to all audiences. In fact, the films have largely been relegated to the academics, as they appear to exist less for entertainment than decipherment. While the films certainly have their place in cinema studies, it is wrong to see them as sterile, or lacking entertaining elements. There are plenty of factors that viewers can certainty sink their teeth into, and, while it may require some work, it is worth the effort.