9 September 2006 | Camera-Obscura
Masterfully crafted suspense-film
DIABOLIQUE (Henri-Georges Clouzot - France 1955).
I must admit I found Clouzot's earlier WAGES OF FEAR(1953) slightly disappointing and therefor temporarily held back from watching any other films he made but how wrong I was! This much discussed classic was one of the most frightening and disturbing films I've ever seen. The music theme played during the opening credits with the organ and the singing schoolchildren still makes the hairs in my neck stand up, even at this very moment.
The story revolves around the tyrant schoolmaster Delasalle (Paul Meurisse) of a seedy boarding school, his wife (Vera Clouzot) and his mistress (Simone Signoret). An he maltreats them both, they decide to work together to murder him. They drown Delasalle in the bathtub and dump the corpse in the abandoned swimming pool next to the school. But then, eerie things start to happen. When the pool is drained and no body is found, the two women grow increasingly fearful that Delasalle is still alive. When subsequently his suit is returned from the dry-cleaners and the schoolchildren repeatedly testify they've seen Delasalle, they start to panic and the strange occurrences surrounding his supposed resurrection slowly drive them into insanity and complete paranoia.
Justifiably hailed as one of the most suspenseful films ever made and often compared to Hitchcock's work. Clouzot lacks the master's wit but as far as suspense goes, he is incomparable. Very much opposed to Hitchcock, this film - like most of his work - has a very cynical and misanthropic feel to it. Perhaps largely due to this very dark tone and Clouzot's excellent eye for detail, even today it still has the power to drive you right up the wall. And Simone Signoret, whom I've never (consciously) seen before in other films, greatly added to my admiration of this film. A sublime actress and an absolutely hypnotizing screen presence. The entire cast is terrific for that matter with Charles Vanel as inspector Fichet another standout.
Clouzot takes his time to build up the story very precisely but once the mysterious things start to happen every scene adds to an almost unbearable tension. You'll watch every facial expression and every detail on screen with increasing paranoia yourself, in order to understand what on earth could have happened. And the ending is so surprising that I wasn't quite sure anymore about the things I just saw, even right after the film's ending. A genuinely great movie that more than lives up to its status and has lost none of its impact over the last five decades.
Camera Obscura --- 10/10