Monday, May 21, 2012

Movie Appraisal: Les Diaboliques (1955)

This Henri-Georges Clouzot French film really surprised me. I never would have expected it to be anywhere near as good as it is. It takes a master director to make a film even half as effective as this. Hell, I would have said before that only Alfred Hitchcock would have been able to do it, but Clouzot not only delivers, I believe he delivers better than Hitchcock would have. That's high praise.

The film is about two women who try to kill the man they share between them. Christina, his wife (played by Véra Clouzot in an absolutely brilliant performance), and Nicole, his mistress (played by Simone Signoret in a subtle and incredible performance herself) star as the two women. They both have their reasons for killing off this awful man, who is a principal of a school he seems to hate. The man, Michel Delassalle (played by Paul Meurisse), is a terrible person, who would deserve any death that the women could give him.


Over the course of the slowly paced film, Michel is killed by the two women, drowned very carefully in a bathtub, and then dumped into the school swimming pool to be found by others later. The problem is his body disappears and this very odd tale of suspense and intrigue commences, all the time with the audience wondering what is real and what isn't, and even moreso if Michel is still alive or if he is truly dead. Theories upon theories went through my head, from supernatural to someone messing with the heads of the two women. Hell, I even once thought that it might have been some kind of awful death dream from Christine, especially with such a focus on her heart condition. And yet, the ending was still both creepy and surprising despite being... well, I'm not going to spoil the ending. The movie itself asked me not to and I'll respect it.


The acting, slow pace, and subtlety really work well in this film, building the tension from beginning to end and leading to an amazing payoff. This film is equal to some of the best Hitchcock films, being very similar in both suspense and ultimate payoff. I'd like to compare the overall film to Vertigo, but both are very different films in general. I think Les Diaboliques is an almost incomparable movie, one that works on so many more levels than it ever should. Its technical quality is sometimes suspect, but the filmography is always brilliant, and despite being black-and-white, the contrast of what you are seeing is incredibly well done, very stark and very intense. 


The film, although in French, is very much a Hitchcockian film. If you've ever enjoyed Hitchcock, you will enjoy Clouzot as well, almost definitely, and I'd recommend its interesting music, its high tension, and its wonderful build-up of both plot and characters to anybody who would enjoy a movie in general. It's fantastically well done and holds up quite well even over sixty years later. I could watch the movie again and again and enjoy it more every time despite knowing the ending. It's a rare movie that adds more to it once you've seen it once.


Anyway, this is a great film, obviously a classic, and I can't say enough great things about it.

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