Les Diaboliques

A part of this viewing list: Criterion Collection Spine #35: Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques.

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This movie is amazing. I’m not one for horror movies, because I never get scared, but the ending sequence of this film even creeped me out. Pretty much any time you hear anything about this film there will be the inevitable comparisons with Hitchcock and the statement that this film inspired him to make Psycho. Thankfully I haven’t seen Psycho yet and am therefore unqualified to talk about that. What I am qualified to talk about is the total awesomeness of this film. These two women, a wife and mistress, plot and kill the man who abuses them and rapes them and beats them. They’ve got a great alibi and all that, they dump the body into the dirty swimming pool of the boarding school they run/work at. The pool gets drained and the body is nowhere to be found. Then people and things start happening that insinuate that Monsieur de Lassalle is still alive and kicking. This must be impossible, since he was drugged, drowned and then held underwater all night by a big bronze statue.

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Clouzot’s extreme filmmaking excellence is so effortless that it is hard to feel the suspense creeping up on you until the money shot at the end. This shot was so good I had to watch it about a dozen times. You can see it in the YouTube clip linked at the end if you don’t mind spoiling the movie for yourself. Basically what happens [and this isn’t a spoiler] is that Mrs. de Lassalle thinks someone is in the school at night and is creeping down the hallway at night. She puts her back to a door which we know someone is behind and look-listens her attention down another hallway. Then the camera pans away from her and slowly tracks around to reveal the extent of the hallway. It doesn’t sound too spectacular but it works on so many levels that for me it is definitely the money shot of the film, no matter what came after it.

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The reason this shot is so spectacular is because on top of all the traditional weight of suspense embodied in the “what’s down the darkened hallway” cliché we have the dramatic irony of knowing where figure of suspense is located; right behind the heroine. When the camera moves away from her there is a torturous foreknowledge that something horrible is going to happen to her, and that we won’t get to see it! The viewer, at the height of suspense and tension in the movie, is essentially told that they will get no satisfaction. Then the movie kicks back into gear and we eventually do get satisfaction, but that pan and track would have made the movie worth watching even if all the rest of it had sucked. Plus, Vera Clouzot, who played Mrs. de Lassalle is quite attractive and wearing a see-through nightgown. Clouzot’s reference to actors as “instruments” is not as insulting as it seems, for these instruments, it is an honor to be held in the hands of a master.

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