Guilty or innocent?The truth will probably never be known ,as is the case with Marie Besnard or Selznec in France.
In spite of the poor current rating ,it's probably Pierre Chenal's towering achievement before the war.Sandwiched between "L'Alibi" and "La Maison Du Maltais" ,it's got a better script and a better structure than the two other works.Erich Von Stroheim starred in the former and would meet again Chenal for his post-war masterpiece " La Foire Aux Chimères" .
Von Stroheim is also part of the cast of "L'Affaire Lafarge " but he keeps a low profile and does not seem very interested in his part.
Based on true facts ,a news item which was widely talked about in the nineteenth century ,this is the story of a wife who might have poisoned her husband .
Pierre Chenal imposed drastic conditions on his producers:he wanted to begin his movie with the dying husband (Pierre Renoir) and to "work like an historian " ,to invite his audience to investigate ,to use flashbacks - a trick which was abandoned at the time before Marcel Carné used it masterfully in his Chef D'Oeuvre " Le Jour Se Lève" (1939)- to show the different sides of the story.And most of all ,he wanted to allow some doubt about the heroine (Marcelle Chantal)'s behavior.
The heroine dreamed of a romantic wedding ,it was a money match;her parents were probably broke posh people -they briefly appear -;The screenwriters were certainly influenced by Flaubert's "Madame Bovary". Her husband is no Prince Charming ,he is closer to the Beast of the fairy tale.And his mother (once again,Madame Sylvie works wonders) ,an over possessive shrew ,is a mom-in-law you would not meet even in your worst nightmares .She even practices black magic,invoking the Devil before the fireplace .
Masterfully constructed ,using flashbacks which may (or may not) exculpate his heroine,Pierre Chenal paved a reliable way to Andre Cayatte who remembered the lesson quite well:a sense of doubt ("Justice Est Faite" ) and the flashbacks after "it" happened ("Avant Le Deluge" )
Pierre Renoir is impressive as the "dirty ""brutal" "rude " husband fond of the bottle .Sylvie matches him every step of the way.The scene when she is chasing rats best describes the atmosphere: perversion,cruelty,wickedness,a world close to those of Duvivier and Clouzot.
Please,give this movie a chance !