Thursday, October 25, 2012

Les Diaboliques

Based on the novel Celle qui n’etait plus (She Who Was No More) by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, Les Diaboliques is the story about a woman and her husband’s mistress conspiring to kill the man where strange things happen when his body suddenly disappears. Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot and screenplay by Clouzot and Jerome Geronimi that also features additional contributions by Rene Masson and Frederic Grendel, the film is an exploration of murder and its aftermath where guilt and such start to unfold. Starring Simone Signoret, Vera Clouzot, Paul Meurisse, and Charles Vanel. Les Diaboliques is a chilling suspense film from Henri-Georges Clouzot.

At an all-boy’s school in France, the frail Christina Delassalle (Vera Clouzot) is dealing with her cruel husband Michel (Paul Meurisse) who is the school’s headmaster. Michel also has a mistress in the teacher Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret) as their affair is quite known with the staff as Christina also knows about it. Yet, the affair is taking on a downward turn as Nicole and Christina conspire to get rid of Michel over his cruelty towards everyone including the students as the two women go away for the weekend at Nicole’s apartment in another town. Michel plans to make a visit after learning that Christina wants to divorce as he confronts her at Nicole’s apartment where he drinks the wine that Nicole has poisoned. After Nicole drowns him in a tub, the two put the body in a drunk as she and Christina drive back to the school as they dump in the school’s dirty pool.

Continuing their work as teachers, Christina and Nicole notice something is going on when the school’s gamekeeper Plantiveau (Jean Brochard) has been cleaning the school’s pool. After draining it, Christina and Nicole notice the body is missing where Christina begins to panic and feel guilty over what happened. When Nicole reads a newspaper report about a body being found at the Seine River, Christina goes to the morgue to identify the body where she meets a retired private detective named Alfred Vichet (Charles Vanel) who is intrigued by her story as she wants to find her husband. Alfred decides to help Christina after a claim from a boy abut seeing Michel as she and Nicole wonder if Michel is really alive after Nicole sees a picture. After Nicole decides to leave the school with Christina ailing from her heart condition, Vichet makes a visit with some notes he made as Christina deals with all of the guilt she faces as well as a major surprise.

The film is essentially a psychological thriller that revolves around two women who want to kill a cruel man and get rid of his body only for something to go wrong when the body suddenly disappears. This leads to all sorts of issues for the two women as the wife becomes fraught with guilt and paranoia as she also has a weak heart condition. For her husband’s mistress, she’s the one trying to control the situation only to realize that the disappearance of the body and the possible appearance of this man is beyond her control as a former private detective starts to get involved. This would lead to all sorts of questions and everything as it leads to some harsh revelations about this man and everything else.

The screenplay does a great job in building up the element of suspense by taking things slow by establishing the relationships between Christina, Nicole, and Michel as where it’s an uneasy love triangle that has Michel being cruel to everyone. He’s much harsher to the very ill Christina who wants out of the marriage as she teams up with Nicole to get rid of Michel any way they can. The first half is about the planning to kill Michel and the murder while the second half is about his body disappearing as well as Christina’s guilt as she turns to Vichet for help that would eventually complicate everything. Vichet is the film’s wild card as he would definitely steer things in the third act that would unveil lots of things along with some of the revelations that occur.

Henri-Georges Clouzot’s direction is definitely mesmerizing in terms of the compositions he creates as well as his approach to suspense. Particularly in taking the time to establish the characters and the situations that would drive Nicole and Christina to make plans to kill Michel. Through some very stylish scenes of the two women riding in a truck that would later carry the body as well as some very straightforward but ominous framing to display the sense of terror that might happen. Clouzot also takes the time to shoot certain objects in order to maintain this unsettling atmosphere where his camera would gaze at the pool or something to see if there is something out there.

Clouzot’s direction also becomes much more brooding as the film reaches the second act through these very strange moments such as the mysterious person in the picture as well as a boy’s claim he saw Michel. Even as Clouzot becomes much more atmospheric in his approach to scenery such as Nicole’s walk towards the darkened hallway or Christina’s walk towards the building to see what is out there. This would lead to some startling reveals and scary moments that really makes the suspense payoff along with more ambiguities that are followed towards the end of the film. Overall, Clouzot creates a very fascinating yet hypnotic suspense film that explores the world of murder and guilt.

Cinematographer Armand Thiraud does amazing work with the film‘s stylish black-and-white photography for some of the film‘s nighttime interiors to help set a mood for the scene and help play out its suspense. Editor Madeleine Gug does brilliant work in creating methodical cuts to build up the film‘s suspense as well as some stylish rhythmic cuts for the suspenseful payoffs. Art director Leon Barsacq does excellent work in the look of the school building the characters live and surround themselves in as well as the apartment that Nicole lives in.

The sound work of William-Robert Sivel is terrific for the low-key atmosphere it creates such as the scene in the apartment where Nicole and Christina try to kill Michel as well as some tense moments involving the students during dinner time. The film’s music by Georges Van Parys is wonderful as it is mostly orchestral-based music that only plays at the film’s opening and closing credits of the film.

The film’s ensemble cast is superb as it features some noteworthy small roles from Noel Roquevert and Therese Dorny as Nicole’s neighbors at the apartment building, Pierre Larquey and Michel Serrault as fellow teachers at the school, and Jean Brochard as the gamekeeper Plantiveau. Charles Vanel is great in a small yet crucial role as the private detective Alfred Fichet as he is intrigued by Christina’s desperation as he would piece all of the puzzles about what really happened. Paul Meurisse is excellent as the slimy and cruel Michel Delassalle who is such a jerk to everyone including the women in his life as he’s the guy everyone loves to hate.

Vera Clouzet is brilliant as the guilt-ridden Christina as she tries to deal with Michel’s cruelty and the deed that she did as becomes overwhelmed as it would affect her health. Finally, there’s Simone Signoret in a harrowing performance as Nicole Horner as she maintains a restrained yet dark performance as a woman trying to maintain control of the situation while creating an ambiguity to her character.

Les Diaboliques is an incredible thriller from Henri-Georges Clouzot that features outstanding performances from Simone Signoret and Vera Clouzot. The film is truly a suspense film that doesn’t play to conventions nor does it try to cheat its audience by having them invested in the mystery. It’s also a film that explores the world of guilt and paranoia in the aftermath of committing a crime as well as maintaining that air of mystery of is this guy really dead or not? In the end, Les Diaboliques is a haunting yet enthralling film from Henri-Georges Clouzot.

Henri-Georges Clouzot Films: (Caprice de Princesse) - (Tour pour l’amour) - (The Murderer Lives at Number 21) - (Le Corbeau) - (Quai des orfevres) - (Manon) - (Miquette et sa mere) - The Wages of Fear - (Les Espions) - (La Verite) - (Grands chef d’orchestre) - (La Prisonniere)

© thevoid99 2012


Chip Lary said...

I liked this movie a lot. While it didn't quite have the tension of The Wages of Fear, what movie could? It was still a terrific movie.

thevoid99 said...

I too prefer The Wages of Fear yet this is still a great film.

Avoid the American remake of Diabolique if you haven't seen it. It's fucking awful.