Enigmatic, perverse, seductive, Isabelle Huppert encapsulates everything that makes Nightcap (Merci Pour Le Chocolat) a film John Waters calls “Cinematic Perfection” in this tale of suppressed family secrets.
The third disc in Arrow’s latest Claude Chabrol set, Twisting the Knife: Four Films by Claude Chabrol, presents his 2000 feature Nightcap, delivered here on a dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode.
Unlike The Color of Lies, the previous film in the set, Nightcap thankfully follows the same path most of Arrow’s recent Chabrol titles have gone down and makes use of a newer 4K restoration, which has more than likely been sourced from the 35mm original negative. The base scan is superb, capturing every nuance within every frame, and Arrow’s encode renders it all cleanly on screen. Film grain is heavy but fine, and it keeps a natural look. The restoration work has been nothing short of thorough and I don't recall any significant blemish ever popping up.
As with the first film in the set, The Swindle, Nightcap’s colours feature a heavy teal tint, which looks a little off and bleeds into everything, even pushing whites more towards blue. Black levels are decent enough, looking inky and deep a majority of the time, but range can be limited in the shadows, things even coming off a bit milky and flat in there.
Slight issues aside, it's another solid film-like presentation with an excellent encode.
Arrow includes a lossless PCM 2.0 stereo soundtrack along with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround soundtrack, both in French. I only watched the film with the 5.1 track.
Music and some sound effects make their way to the surrounds, but the mix is otherwise simple. Dialogue is focused to the fronts, center channel primarily, and it all sounds clean with excellent fidelity. The track is also free of any damage and distortion.
Arrow includes yet another audio commentary, this time by film critic Justine Smith. Of the tracks offered up between the two Chabrol sets so far, the set this disc is found in along with Lies & Deceit, it may be one of the weaker ones, but not without its strengths. Smith talks about the film’s structure and Chabrol’s penchant for leaving things ambiguous, throwing out plot points that don’t make a whole lot of sense, and how the film ultimately offers up a series of—what appear to be—"non-events” yet still builds up a “sense of urgency,” all for its examination and criticism of its (primarily) bourgeois characters. On top of comments around the film’s further examination of class divisions, Huppert’s performance, and how Chabrol utilizes television in his films (something brought up in a visual essay on the previous disc), she will also throw out fun little factoids, including how the film was shot in one of David Bowie’s homes (then just put up on the market). She does keep the track going with very little dead space, but at times it ends up feeling as though she didn’t have a clear path and is “winging it” a lot of the time, with jarring segues here and there and at least one instance where I think she’s confirming something online. Still, she’s clearly fond of Chabrol’s work, knows it well, and she still assembles some interesting material together.
Arrow also includes a new 11-minute video essay by Scout Tafoya entitled When I Pervert Good… Tafoya, who also provided an essay on the previous disc, appears to be using this film as a way to examine what Chabrol, who no longer had anything to prove as a filmmaker by this point, was looking to accomplish with his later works. Unfortunately, similar to the other essay, it feels a bit fluffy, made up primarily of clips from the film with another whispery voice-over that doesn’t say all that much.
Also included are a number of archival features, all of which prove to add a bit more value. There are two separate interviews featuring the film’s leads, Isabelle Huppert and Jacques Dutronc, running 7-mintes and 32-minutes respectively. Huppert simply offers up a brief description of her character, who she describes as “destructive” with a caring façade, while Dutronc shares far more about the film and working with Chabrol. Sitting at a piano with cigar in hand, he answers the interviewer’s questions, with an air of annoyance on occasion, most of them revolving around how the director worked with him, best summed up as Dutronc showed up and Chabrol told him what to do. Also a composer, Dutronc even takes the time to share his thoughts on writing/making a film, drawing parallels to writing/composing music. It starts out a little rough, as though Dutronc doesn’t want to be there, but it ends up being an amusing discussion.
Another archival introduction by film critic Joël Magny is included, and, like the others found on the other Chabrol discs, ends up being more of a summary of the film, with some comments around it being an adaptation of a Charlotte Armstrong novel with the setting changed to Switzerland, the significance of which is explained here and in Smith’s commentary. You’ll also find yet another select-scene commentary by Chabrol himself. One of the longer ones, running 44-minutes, the good-humoured director offers up another great discussion around his choices, the reasoning behind the camera work and framing, and the work that went into making it look like Anna Mouglalis was playing the piano properly. And speaking of Mouglalis, Arrow also includes audition footage of the actor performing scenes with her eventual co-star, Rudolphe Pauly, which are then compared to the finished scenes in the film. A trailer and a small gallery featuring production photos, posters, and DVD artwork closes things off.
The commentary ends up being okay if one of the weaker ones so far, but the disc does include some of the stronger archival features.
Questionable colours aside, the disc offers up a clean and sharp looking presentation.