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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