Monday, 3 December 2012

Les diaboliques.

The two teachers plot the demise of their headmaster.

‘A painting is always quite moral when it is tragic and conveys the horror of the things it depicts’ so says a quote from Jules–Amedee Barbey d’Aurevilly that appears at the beginning of Les diaboliques (1955). Barbey d’Aurevilly was a 19th century French novelist and short story writer who specialised in mystery tales that explored hidden motivation and hinted at evil without being explicitly concerned with anything supernatural. Coincidently in 1874 he wrote a collection of short stories called Les Diaboliques, most of which relate tale’s of women who commit act’s of violence or revenge.

Michel Delassalle with his wife.......

.....and his mistress.

Henri-Georges Clouzot has been credited as one of the pioneers of the classic movie thriller. A French director and writer who specialised in making movies which created tension from ordinary situations, had plots which included a twist at the end and usually displayed dark psychological overtones. A good example of this is Clouzot’s 1955 thriller Les diaboliques. Set in a rundown provincial boys boarding school, the plot involves the planned murder of its sadistic bullying headmaster Michel Delassalle (Paul Meurisse). The protagonists involved in this deadly proposal are the headmaster’s abused weak hearted wife Christina Delassable (Vera Clouzot the wife of the director who died from a heart attack at the age of 46 in Paris in 1960) and his sensual mistress Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret best known in the UK for her role of Alice Aisgill in the 1959 British classic Room At The Top, a role for which he received numerous Best Actress awards) As with the best thrillers all does not necessarily go to plan but I won’t spoil your enjoyment of the film by revealing any more of the narrative suffice to say that the movies end title card includes the warning “Don’t be diabolical. Don’t spoil the ending by telling your friends what you have just seen.”

Michel's not looking to good!

Clouzot’s movie certainly demonstrates that the most thrilling of films do not necessarily require a lavish setup, Technicolor or special effects.  Now considered a classic, a worthy description in this instance, it’s a film that become a byword in the production of emotionally powerful movies. Although the style of the movie has been copied many times the original has lost none of its power. The film draws you in from its very first moment and its sense of menace keeps you intrigued right up to the final frame. Legend has it that Clouzot beat Hitchcock to the rights of the original 1952 Pierre Boileau and Thomas Nercejac novel The Woman Who Was No More by a matter of a few hours. In 1958 Hitchcock adapted another of the author’s novels into the inferior 1958 movie Vertigo.

Don’t be diabolical. Don’t spoil the ending by telling your friends what you have just seen.”

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