Les Diaboliques (1954)
Directed by: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Written by: Pierre Boileau, Thomas Narcejac
Starring: Vera Clouzot, Simone Signoret, Paul Meurisse, Charles Vanel
I have recently seen the 1953 French classic Le Salaire de la peur (a.k.a. Wages of Fear) by Henri-Georges Clouzot and it was certainly a great film, although I did have some issues with it. What was the most interesting aspect of that film is the amazing care Clouzot dedicated to tension and suspense, one that has been rarely matched, if only by a certain bald British „master of suspense“. The comparisons with Hitchcock do not end there, because Les Diaboliques, Clouzot's 1954 follow-up to Le Salaire de la peur, is a wonderful thriller that is as good as anything Hitchcock ever did. It is interesting to note that the film was based on a novel called Celle Qui N'Etait Plus by two French writers, Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, who wrote the script as well. Their second novel, D'entre les morts, was adapted by Alfred Hitchcock himself, into his masterpiece Vertigo.
I can bluntly say that some of the scenes in Les Diaboliques belong in movie history. Clouzot is practically a perfect director when it comes to creating suspense and a feeling of fright. First of all, there is no music involved. This has been a formula that many great filmmakers had done and it works superbly. Second of all, it is not the point in how much you can see, but how much you cannot. In one of the final scenes, Clouzot masterfully keeps the viewer on the edge of his seat, while focusing the direction on the sound of screeching doors or a typewriter, giving hardly any visual scares like in all those cheap Hollywood horror films. As much as it is a thriller, Les Diaboliques can be viewed as a horror film as well – the atmosphere is genuinely creepy, largely thanks to the cinematography (the film is shot in black-and-white), that is another little wonder to behold – you'll be amazed at what Clouzot can do with a simple shot of a dark hallway or a shadow contrasting the light behind it.
The performances vary from great (famous French actress Simone Signoret delivering as the cunning mistress and Paul Meurisse playing a great villain) to solid (Vera Clouzot, the central character, playing the molested wife gives a very solid performance, but sometimes hams it up a little in a couple of key scenes). The less you know about the story, the better. There is even an anti-spoiler message after the enigmatic open-to-interpretation ending (something I really love – it's a film where the viewer not only keeps guessing, but is allowed to have his own interpretations about it), that instructs the viewer not to tell a single thing about the film's plot to others. So, I'm keeping my mouth shut. Go and see it.