Why are Claude Chabrol films always so high-key? For someone who was more or less a genre filmmaker he departs from one major tenet of thrillers/mysteries – even a lot of his suspenseful scenes are brightly lit.
Masques is no exception. A sort of minor work that nonetheless stars the always great Philippe Noiret, this is in the midst of Chabrol’s most fruitless period (as opposed to his 1958 – 1970 and 1992 – 2009).
Still, this cat and mouse story of journalist Roland Wolf (Robin Renucci) at the mansion of a game-show host Christian Legagneur (Noiret) who may be hiding more than he lets on has its moments. The ending is strong, particularly Legagneur’s fantastic monologue, and it features a lot of Chabrol themes of class and entitlement.
Back to those high-key images. I got to thinking that maybe it’s the directors way of stripping away fakery that comes with “false,” histrionic lighting. Chabrol isn’t necessarily a realist, but critics often point that his plots start tight and then end flat. I think the same claim can be made here: he is interested in a sort of realism – at least one that favors simple resolutions and strong character interactions (his key, I think) over tricky plotting (perhaps for Chabrol: a contrivance) and over-cleverness.
Of course not all scenes in Masques are lit as such-
-but other, more dramatic moments than this one are-
There’s something of Roman Polanski in this scene depicted above, a crucial kidnapping moment. The enclosed location, the smiling villains, the lighting, the colorful costuming – just throw a wide angle lens on some of it, get close up, and this could be early Polanski.
There’s a really mobile camera in Masques. A scene where Wolf steals Legagneur’s keys while the latter sleeps has strong blocking. The camera has a mind of its own.
It starts in CU on Legagneur, tilts up off of him, and finds Wolf in the doorway:
The camera then cuts to a wide, for what will be the beginning of a fairly long take:
As Wolf approaches camera it tilts down to his hand-
-and then has to play catch up before finding him in a really nice over-the-shoulder:
I like this moment above because by the time the camera catches up to Wolf he’s situated. He’s comfortable. It shows his confidence.
Then the camera gets away from him. In true psychological fashion it dollies towards the sleeping Legagneur, moves away to his bedside table, and find’s Wolf’s hand:
Considering that all of this happens after that over-the-shoulder it’s pretty clearly a personification of Wolf’s imagination at work (we go from the pensive Wolf in the foreground, finger on chin; to where he thinks to look; to him looking). The camera is our intuition as well, and it’s also playing with us (in a dissimilar way, of course, to how I talked about Chabrol’s inclinations earlier): don’t get too close. He’ll wake up!