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Roland Wolf wants to write a book about a TV game-show host, the hail-fellow-well-met Christian Legagneur, who invites Wolf to his country estate, promising several days of lengthy interviews. But Legagneur's laughter and easy intimacy are empty of content for a book, and he's constantly dashing off, promising Wolf more time later. Wolf seems to have his own mask: he's brought a gun with him, and he's curious about a woman who was a recent guest at the estate. There's also Legagneur's godchild, Catherine, recovering from mental illness, and hovered over by Legagneur and his secretary. As Wolf digs through desks, he discovers a murderous plot. Can he now outfox his host? Written by
A thought-provoking thriller from a master of suspense
At a time when skeletons were being found in the cupboards of a number of well-known celebrities in France, Chabrol created this film which asks the simple question: what lies beneath the mask of an apparently pleasant and sugar-sweet public figure? Can such a person be utterly wicked, capable of fraud, deceit - even murder - and get away with all that unnoticed? How far can the public image and the private reality differ?
For the subject of his analysis, Chabrol could hardly have chosen a better actor than Philippe Noiret. In his role, Noiret is so successful that it is virtually impossible to believe that his character could harm a fly - until the truly disturbing scene when his daughter shows him a bird in a cage, triggering a phobic reaction that causes the mask to slip - albeit for just a moment. After that, the mask stays firmly in place, until the last possible moment. But when the mask does fall, as it has to, and Legagneur turns on his television viewers, we see the truth in an instant and ask ourselves: how could we have been so blind? More disturbingly, we begin to question - as Chabrol intended we should - whether any real-life TV presenters have similar dark secrets.
Whilst not quite in the league of some of Chabrol's other thrillers (most notably the superb La Cérémonie), Masques is a film which does have some gripping moments and some sparkling dialogue. The ending is as funny as it is tragic, and, as a thought-provoker, it achieves its objective a little too successfully. I for one will never be able to watch a silver-tongued TV presenter again without thinking: what lies behind this mask?
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