Diabolique – Review

17 Dec

Let’s travel back to 1955. A time in film where new styles and techniques were on the cusp of emergence. For France, it is a period between the French poetic realism movement and before the French New Wave, which really took storm in the 1960s. Written and directed by Henri-Georges Cluzot, Diabolique is a psychological thriller in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock’s finest work with almost unbearable suspense, multiple twists and turns, and an ending designed to blow you right out of your chairs.

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Michel Delassalle (Paul Meurisse) is not a nice man. He is cruel and punishing to both his wife,  Christina (Vera Cluzot), who is the headmaster of the school he works at, and his mistress, Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret). These two women are finally pushed to the limit by the controlling nature of Michel that they plot to murder him. There plan is soon carried out and the hide the body, but something strange quickly happens. The body disappears. The mystery and paranoia of the women grow as clues and suspicions begin to build in the school around them.

Diabolique is one of the best examples of films of old still being both important and shocking. Many people at the time considered this to be one of the most terrifying movies ever to be made. Now, the movie doesn’t seem very terrifying, but it is still shocking. By “shocking,” I mean that the suspense pushes viewers to the very edges of their seats with a conclusion that will never be forgotten. If the plot wasn’t paced like it was, in this slow and steady burn, than the climax and ending would be no where near as powerful as they are.

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From what I gather about Henri Cluzot is that his directing style was deliberate to the point of an obsession. This reminds me very much of my favorite film makers, Stanley Kubrick. The obsession of creating the absolute best movie that Cluzot could possibly be capable of making shows in the finished product. The camera movement is swift and precise which allows for longer takes rather than cutting whenever there’s a change in action or scenery. The cinematography is as deliberate as the camera work with high contrasts of darks and lights that seems more like it belongs in a film noir of the 1930s or 40s. This begs the question: Would you consider Diabolique noir?

Before I mentioned Hitchcock. The interesting thing is that Cluzot beat Hitchcock for the rights to make the novel that it was based on into a movie by only a couple of hours. I didn’t know this before I went into the movie and kept thinking to myself, “This really could be a Hitchcock film.” This doesn’t mean that all great psychological thrillers are made by Hitchcock, it’s just that the time it was released and the pacing all reminds me of the Master of Suspense. Hitchcock actually got the idea for his Psycho poster from the ending title of this movie which says not to spoil the movie for anyone, and also the theatre had to stop anyone from entering after the movie started.

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Diabolique is a classic that I don’t hear mentioned enough. It made Bravo’s list of the 100 Scariest Movie Moments at number 49, and I hear it briefly talked about in school, but that’s about it. This is an outstanding piece of film making that combines all it beautiful and bone chilling traits to make a brain teaser of epic proportions. Fans of Hitchcock, take delight in this, and film lovers everywhere must put this on their must see list.

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