Saturday, September 24, 2011

Les Diaboliques (1955)





Les Diaboliques
1955, Cinédis


Principal Cast:  Simone Signoret, Véra Clouzot, Paul Meurisse, Charles Vanel
Director:  Henri-Georges Clouzot

Producer:  Henri-Georges Clouzot
Screenplay: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Cinematography: Armand Thirard

Plot:  The wife of a cruel headmaster and his mistress conspire to kill him, but after the murder is committed, his body disappears, and strange events begin to plague the two women.  (Courtesy: IMDB)



Die, darling! Die and do it quickly! 

Henri-Georges Clouzot's psychological thriller Les Diaboliques is one of the finest works of horror ever captured.  He accomplished this without monsters.  Without aliens.  Even without ax-wielding psychopaths.  Clouzot uses mood, lighting and brooding cinematography to capture the terror.  Two women, equally spurned by a chauvinist school headmaster, conspire to kill the man that's making their lives hell.  But after the murder goes down, the real nightmare begins.  The next day the body disappears and neither conspirator knows what happened.  Was he still alive?  Did they not kill him properly?  Or, even more terrifying... is there something supernatural at work here?  Clouzot doesn't let up the suspense until the very last frames of the film, ultimately climaxing in quite simply the best twist endings of all time.

The story, written also by Clouzot, has a perfectly structured three-act arc.  Act I sets up the characters, the location and the murder.  Michel Delassalle is the headmaster, a cruel chauvinist pig.  He does not hide the fact that he has a mistress from his wife.  Too bad he treats his mistress the same way he treats his wife: like garbage.  After both women join forces to kill him, they drown him in the school's dirty swimming pool.  Act II starts the mystery. The next day the pool is drained to the horror of both women, however no body is found.  The killers are shocked, but continue their duties at the school as normal.  That is, however, until there are multiple sightings of the headmaster on campus.  The killers (or are they?) slowly start to lose their minds as the mystery deepens.  Act III is the terrifying conclusion, which will not be spoiled here.  The resolution to the unbearable suspense is highly satisfying.
The formula for this film has often been imitated, but no film has ever surpassed it.  This is a French production, so for English speakers there are subtitles.  What's amazing is that the film's visual language is universal.  Clouzot's direction, combined with Armand Thirard's cinematography, does all the talking.  It is beautifully shot; the black and white works perfectly to set the mood and accentuate the dark corners of this world.

Last but not least, the acting is top quality.  Véra Clouzot, the director's wife, played the schoolmaster's wife while Simone Signoret played the mistress.  The acting weight of the movie rests on both their shoulders as they have to do the majority of the heavy lifting.  And they both hold up their end of the bargain.  Clouzot plays the demure shrinking violet pushed to the edge of murder.  Signoret's mistress is the femme fatale who plots the grisly event.  Once the mystery sets in, the two women go slowly insane, paranoid, irrational and increasingly terrified.  Both actresses do an exceptional job of conveying the madness of the two killers.
Simply put Les Diaboliques is a brilliant piece of horror.