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Diabolique Review


RATING:
(3.5 STARS)

Director Henri-Georges Clouzot is often referred to as the “French Hitchcock.” If that’s the case, I’d call The Wages of Fear his Psycho and Diabolique his Vertigo. The two former films reinvented cinema as we know it and represent the pinnacle of their respective genres. The two latter films aren’t quite on that level, but not because they are extraordinarily well-made. They’re impeccably constructed thrillers, but they’re just thrillers to me—nothing relavatory.

As far as Diabolique is concerned, it’s hard to pinpoint anything wrong with it. The acting is spot-on. The direction is exceptional. The mis-en-scene is brilliantly eerie. And the ending is in a class all by itself. But there are times when I thought the film was spinning its wheels. It occurs after the first major plot twist and keeps going, longer than I ever thought it would, almost right up until the ending. In that respect, it really reminded me of Vertigo. Both films feature incredible surprises, but after a while, you just want it to start heading somewhere. And though the ending brings everything into focus, I can’t just forget about those long stretches when I was wondering what the Clouzot was up to.

For the uninitiated, the film takes place at a down-and-out school for boys in the French countryside. The school’s headmaster is the wicked Michel (Paul Meurisse), a man who torments the school’s children and staff in equal measure. But he saves his worst for the two women in his life: his fragile wife Christina (Vera Clouzot) and Nicole (Simone Signoret), his fed-up mistress. Nicole and Christina are fully aware of each other and the way Michel treats them physically and emotionally. So Nicole devises a plan to kill him, but she needs Christina’s help. And surprisingly, it goes off without a hitch—at least at first.

I’d love to get more in depth into the details of the plot, but the less you know about the twists and turns, the better. Suffice it to say something happens during the crime that no one could expect, especially Nicole and Christina. They’re haunted by this slip up, and their attempts to rectify it drive the rest of the film forward. My issue with that, however, is the momentum sputters the longer the film goes on (until the conclusion). I was shocked at times, but I didn’t feel those shocks were enough to keep things moving along at the pace they needed to.

What kept me involved was the film’s marvelous composition and production values. There are images in the film that will stay with me for a long time, as well as sets that are as moody and creepy as any I can recall. The film’s acting isn’t perfect, but it’s just what it needs to be. These aren’t fully developed characters, but Clouzot, Meurisse, and especially Signoret inhabit their characters’ respective traits impeccably.

I totally see why Diabolique is so beloved and respected. It really is a great film. I just had a few issues with it. But definitely check it out; You won’t regret it.

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