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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