• Man Who Lies, The

    Released by: Kino Lorber/Redemption Films
    Released on: May 27th, 2014.
    Director: Alain Robbe-Grillet
    Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant
    Year: 1968
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    The Movie:

    Under cover of night, a mysterious man (Jean-Louis Trintignant) wearing a 1960s-style suit desperately makes his way through a forest while being pursued by a platoon of Nazi soldiers. He ducks behind trees and takes temporary refuge in foliage as he avoids bursts of machine gun fire and grenade explosions. The Nazis soon close in and the man appears to die with a spectacularly melodramatic flourish under a hail of bullets. The sun rises on his sprawled body and the man suddenly stands up and nonchalantly brushes himself off before going on his way. His opening narration to the viewer: “My name is Robin. Jean Robin. I’m going to tell you my story. Or at least, I’m going to try.” The problem is that the man’s name isn’t Jean Robin but rather Boris Varissa. Or is it?

    The Man Who Lies (1968) is the third feature written and directed by Alain Robbe-Grillet and his second collaboration with actor Trintignant (they had teamed up the previous year for the Godardian hijinks of Trans-Europe Express). Robbe-Grillet will always be remembered for writing the screenplay to Alain Resnais’ loopy art-house classic Last Year at Marianbad (1961) and he is even more highly regarded in the literary realm for helping to pioneer the nouveau roman, or “new novel.” It is thus ironic that The Man Who Lies, the film that most resembles his literary output, should have flopped so badly upon its initial release. The key to appreciating it lies in an understanding of Robbe-Grillet’s philosophy of narrative.

    The nouveau roman was a deliberate attempt to create a literature of surfaces; eschewing the traditional conventions of the “realistic” novel, and its focus on character psychology and symbolism, Robbe-Grillet sought to strip away these elements to create a spare style that has often been described as “cinematic.” It is not surprising that Robbe-Grillet should thus be drawn toward the cinema and his work in this medium, from the cerebral formalism of L’Immortelle (1963) to the Sadeian excesses of his later work, delights in this celebration of the image. Where possible “symbols” emerge (take for instance the blue shoes in 1974’s Successive Slidings of Pleasure) the objects are almost always fetishized, thus negating any potential for lofty signification. For all their narrative ambiguity and supposed difficulty, Robbe-Grillet’s cinema attempts to create narratives that do not require the viewer to figure them out but that “solve themselves” upon completion (they almost all conclude with a self-reflexive joke).

    In the case of The Man Who Lies, Robbe-Grillet creates a film with multiple narratives and, as the title suggests, none of them are “true” in the conventional sense. It is not so accurate to say that the film features an “unreliable narrator” but rather that the film plays with the very notion of objectivity (a recurring theme in Robbe-Grillet’s novels as well). The protagonist soon tells us his name real name is Boris Varissa and wanders into a town. As he walks into an inn that is jam-packed with locals his narration tells us that it is empty; on the one hand, we are tempted to take stock in the concrete presence of the cinematic image. The discrepancy between what we see and what the narration says should be an indication that Boris is a liar. However, this neglects to take into account that the images that we witnessed in the film’s opening moments (the Nazis in the woods) are fabricated as well.

    Boris overhears the locals discussing Jean Robin, a resistance fighter who has been missing for quite some time and may be dead. His wife, his sister and a maid await his return in their dilapidated castle. Boris takes advantage of this situation to ingratiate himself with the three women by claiming that Jean Robin was his comrade-in-arms during the war. The subsequent action of the film concerns Boris’ attempts at seduction by creating a series of narratives that abound in intrigue and military exploits. The film is a great showcase for Trintignant as he embraces the inherent theatricality of his character (in fact, Robbe-Grillet says that the film was written for him in mind). Part of the fun of The Man Who Lies is seeing Boris constantly revise his stories when their validity is challenged by one of the other characters.

    However, the film does not create a simplistic duality between what is true and what is false. Robbe-Grillet is a true visual stylist, and he effectively employs montage and cross-cutting in remarkably effective ways to disorient the viewer; it is significant that these moments often do not occur during Boris’ narratives. Perhaps the most effective stylistic signature in Robbe-Grillet’s filmmaking is the repetition of key sounds and images (a device that has its genesis in his fiction; see his remarkable 1957 novel Jealousy). In The Man Who Lies, the repetition of shattering glass in particular is a repetition that successively operates on both an aesthetic and a thematic level. The film also continues the director’s obsession with eroticism, as seen in Boris’ attempts to manipulate the three ladies into sleeping with him, although these scenes are more suggestive than explicit. Robbe-Grillet’s cinematic engagement with sexuality would become more overt in his following film, 1970’s Eden and After.


    The Man Who Lies makes its hi-def debut in this wonderful release from Kino/Redemption. The superlative 1080p transfer is presented in 1:33:1 and the black and white image is fantastic. There is great detail throughout and the healthy and mostly unobtrusive presence of film grain (there are some darker scenes where in which the grain becomes a bit more noticeable). The black levels are mostly good and print damage is kept to a bare minimum.

    The audio option for the film is a French language LPCM 2.0 Mono track with optional English subtitles. This is a good mix, which is essential due to the importance of Michel Fano’s effectively moody percussive avant-garde soundtrack. There are no issues with hiss or distortion and the subtitles are flawless.

    As with the other titles in Kino/Redemption’s Robbe-Grillet series, the main draw in the extras department is a comprehensive thirty-four minute interview with Frédéric Taddeï. The latter proves to be a superb interviewer, with a genuine enthusiasm for the films being discussed and a knack for asking wonderful questions (at one point he reduces Robbe-Grillet to a bemused smirk as he is asked to contemplate the supposed autobiographical nature of his film). Robbe-Grillet discusses many fascinating details about the genesis of the film (a Franco-Czech co-production) and also shares some of the work’s literary influences (Kafkfa, Pushkin and Borges). This piece is an essential watch that helps to illuminate certain aspects of the film. In addition to the interview, there are theatrical trailers for The Man Who Lies, Trans-Europe Express, and Eden and After. Rounding out the extras department is a 2014 promo short, which essentially advertises all six films of the “Cinema of Alain Robbe-Grillet” series.

    The Final Word:

    Although The Man Who Lies is not Robbe-Grillet’s best film, its playful emphasis on storytelling continues the writer/director’s extended exploration on the nature of narrative and objectivity. Robbe-Grillet’s films have not nearly achieved the attention or renown of his literary oeuvre but this series from Kino/Redemption makes a great case for their reevaluation. This release is highly recommended for fans of art-house cinema.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!