Paul, an irritable and stressed-out hotel manager, begins to gradually develop paranoid delusions about his wife's infidelity. As he succumbs to green-eyed jealousy, his life starts to crumb... Read allPaul, an irritable and stressed-out hotel manager, begins to gradually develop paranoid delusions about his wife's infidelity. As he succumbs to green-eyed jealousy, his life starts to crumble. Each step on his downward spiral to madness seems to accelerate, driving him further a... Read allPaul, an irritable and stressed-out hotel manager, begins to gradually develop paranoid delusions about his wife's infidelity. As he succumbs to green-eyed jealousy, his life starts to crumble. Each step on his downward spiral to madness seems to accelerate, driving him further along the path to a personal hell. Finally, the former shell of his personality cracks comp... Read all
As with all of Chabrol's foremost creations, this is incisive social commentary masquerading under the banal tag of "psychological thriller". Though the film can be enjoyed without any deeper engagement with or meditation on its themes of Othello-esquire obsession/jealousy, I think some thought will reveal it to be a far more rewarding film than a superficial viewing might suggest.
Situating/contextualizing the film in Chabrol's vast corpus of work, one finds in "L'Enfer" another nightmarish journey into the hazards of bourgeois sterility. Though one might say that the work is naturalistic in some respects (the intense violence that simmers beneath the genteel exterior is revealed in his disdainful disparagement of the neighboring competition), that the overreaching, emotionally volatile and profoundly sensitive husband is particularly prone to this type of neurosis, the telling proclamation of "sans fin" that closes the film suggests that the narrative is not one of isolated particulars, but a general affliction, a self-perpetuating tragedy engendered by flawed social mechanisms.
Throughout his career, Chabrol has been especially critical of the life-denying entropy and suffocating claustrophobia of bourgeois marriage, a plight where the insatiably voracious woman feels her haplessness and subordination most acutely. This, in some respects, might be his finest evaluation of marriage and erotic love in general. The tensions explored throughout the film are far from novel, again we bear witness to the irresolvable Romantic preoccupation, the desire to possess and identify with a subjective other. Again, as with "Les Bonnes Femmes", we see the carnivorous, destructive male principle, eager to subdue, asphyxiate, smother and ultimately devour irrepressible femininity.
Yet lest we distance ourselves from Paul's evident psychosis, Chabrol implicates marriage as an institution endorsed by society at large. Note Paul's perverse, masochistic pleasure in fabricating these outlandish fantasies, particularly the wild reverie of Emanuelle Beart entertaining the entire hotel in the attic. Is this the only way to preserve erotic love in the nauseating ennui of marriage, to continually reinvent the Other and, through wild imaginings, make him/her a stranger so as to escape the concreteness of conjugal reality? On another level, the film might be read as an Adlerian representation of modern neurosis, of a nervous man who is inadequately equipped for the rigours of social expectation, whose overreaching demand for absolute order and unity invariably drive him to dementia and a flight from reality. Chimeras of success and masculine authority elude him, undermined by personal insecurities and a willful, independent wife. How then, does he compensate for his lack of control? Refuge in the sadistic alternate reality that he manufactures throughout the movie.
Technically, this movie is almost immaculate, featuring outstanding performances (Emmanuelle Beart is a force of nature) and repeated viewings affirm that it is a movie of great understanding. I'm not sure if this review made any sort of sense at all, but at the end of the day all I can do is urge you to immerse yourself in "L'Enfer".
- Sep 12, 2007