Diabolique (Les Diaboliques)
Henri-Georges Clouzot and Alfred Hitchcock were contemporaries and rivals. Although Clouzot generally toiled in the better-known Hitchcock's shadow, his films were nevertheless shown and recognized world-wide. (Clouzot, it should be noted, did not like the appellation of "the French Hitchcock," which several English-language critics of the time used to describe him.) Both directors' films have also provided much fodder for re-makes, and, based on the results, someone should pass a law making it illegal to "re-envision" anything previously brought to the screen by either Clouzot or Hitchcock. To date, the only watchable re-make of either man's work is Sorceror, which is based on Clouzot's Wages of Fear. The American version of Diabolique, made in 1996 and starring Sharon Stone, is a travesty. The word "inferior" doesn't even begin to describe the relationship between the '90s hack-job and the brilliant original. Diabolique is one of those rare thrillers that triumphs both in terms of style (the black-and-white photography exudes atmosphere – you can feel it seeping from the screen) and plot. Diabolique's twisty storyline is filled with surprises, the biggest and most ambiguous of which doesn't occur until the closing moments. It's sad that so many younger movie fans wouldn't consider this picture for two reasons – (1) it's not in color, and (2) it's subtitled. The loss is theirs. Diabolique est magnifique.
Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
Diabolique tells the story of two women who engage in an unlikely conspiracy to murder one man. The intended victim is Michel Delasalle (Paul Meurisse), a despicable person who abuses his women while flaunting his mistress in front of his wife. To say that Michel is not a nice person is to understate matters. If selective murders were made legal, he would be an excellent subject. The potential killers are Christina Delasalle (played by Vera Clouzot, the director's wife), the ailing, fragile wife; and Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret), the mistress who wears sunglasses to conceal her latest shiner. To reveal anything more would be to spoil the fun…
Unlike many noir thrillers, Diabolique uses as much time to refine its characters as to develop the plot. By never pushing the film's more contrived aspects to an excess, director Henri-Georges Clouzot crafts a gripping, chillingly-believable scenario. The moments of irreverent humor are seamlessly incorporated so as not to disturb the overall tone. With its keen insight into the base aspects of human nature, Diabolique has a great deal more to offer than a traditional genre entry. Perfectly-paced and constructed with diabolical cleverness, this film represents a pinnacle in atmospheric suspense.
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