Claude Chabrol’s camera has a way of gently swaying back and forth as it cradles its characters, veiling tension beneath otherwise tender movements. There are many such motions in the director’s 48th feature film, Merci Pour Le Chocolat (also known as Nightcap), the story of an icy chocolate heiress who uses Rohypnol to manage her domestic bliss. Mika (Isabelle Huppert) rules the Muller chocolate company with an iron fist and while Chabrol spends little time with her at the workspace, we come to know her as a fiercely competitive creature less concerned with profits than with keeping up with the times. Her pianist husband Andre (Jacques Dutronc) married her not long after his first wife died in a mysterious car accident. Jeanne (Anna Mouglalis) is the young piano player that could be Andre’s biological daughter. Together they make beautiful music (oddly yet appropriately, there are two grand pianos in Andre’s living room) and while Jeanne’s birthright is ultimately of little consequence, Chabrol loves to tease Mika with the possibilities (see the fabulous graphic match that links Jeanne to Andre’s dead wife). As if guided by Andre’s favorite Liszt tune, Mika makes her way upstairs and into her stepson’s room, staring at the portrait of the woman who has seemingly returned to the present via the precocious Jeanne. Chabrol’s attention to detail is every bit as terrifying (watch as Mika recreates the past with a pot of boiling water) as his atmospheric use of sound and close-up. Guillaume (Rodolphe Pauly) plays a handheld video game while his father plays a piece by Liszt; the jarring juxtaposition of sounds is not only indicative of the son’s dubious heritage but the scene wondrously prefigures Jeanne’s domestic infiltration. Once again, Huppert makes it look easy, slithering in and out of rooms like a snake molting its skin. She’s no more terrifying in the end than she is at the beginning and while a lesser actress may have made a spectacle of her character’s transformation, Huppert welcomes sympathy for Mika just as the character breaks apart. Mika is as deadly as she is genuinely nurturing and Huppert’s final pose reinforces the film’s obsession with uncertain parentage. Sound and image gloriously converge during the film’s final crescendo when Mika metaphorically returns to the fetus.
First Run Features preserves the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio of Claude Chabrol's handsomely directed Merci Pour Le Chocolat on this DVD edition of the film. Sadly, the transfer really doesn't do Chabrol's gorgeous compositions justice. Flesh tones are accurate but the print is frequently grainy and just plain dull. Some of the film's brighter sequences are also unfortunately washed out. The Dolby Digital 2.0 is perfectly serviceable and only shines when someone on screen is hitting the piano keys.
Nothing crucial to report. Available here is an intelligent introduction by Claude Chabrol, a handsome photo gallery, cast and crew profiles, the film's original French theatrical trailer and promos for other upcoming First Run Features titles.
A disappointing DVD treatment for Claude Chabrol's must-see psychological thriller.