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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
Intriguing, somewhat old-fashioned thriller where no one is quite who he seems to be (though the revelations in themselves are hardly astounding); for what it is worth, I had to make do here with a TV-sourced version sporting French subtitles! In any case, the film virtually hinges on Philippe Noiret's excellent central performance as a larger-than-life TV presenter with a weakness for luxury. Evoking Walter Matthau to a striking degree, he manages all of the protagonist's various facets (transmitting in this way his talent for manipulation) going from the charm he exercises on audiences and collaborators alike, to the tenderness he demonstrates towards his young female charge (whom he ostensibly took on out of compassion after both her parents perished in a car crash), the ruthlessness he eventually adopts in order to achieve his goals, and ultimately the breakdown he suffers 'on air' exposing him for the contemptuous bully he really is.
The plot sees a young reporter apparently approach Noiret for the purposes of writing his biography (he is actually investigating the disappearance of a woman who had been the old man's guest). At the latter's country-house, he meets and is attracted to the girl (leading a sheltered life due to her 'delicate' health), who even reciprocates his feelings to Noiret's obvious chagrin (incidentally, Chabrol resists making him a lecher since he is only after the heroine's money). Bland Robin Renucci is only adequate as the amateur detective, but Anne Brochet's classical beauty (looking quite a bit like Emmanuelle Beart!) is ideally suited for the rather melancholy girl he determines to save from the evil clutches of her guardian. Also involved is Bernadette Lafont (middle-aged but still looking good and with hair dyed blonde) as a hanger-on at Noiret's estate who professes to tell fortunes.
MASQUES basically resolves itself in a battle-of-wills between Noiret and Renucci (and eventually the former and Brochet, when it finally dawns on her that what the young man and the lady who went missing had been telling her all along was true). In its expose' of bourgeois double standards and numerous scenes of carefully-built suspense, then, the film emerges to be extremely typical of its director (as well as being reasonably representative of his vast body of work).
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