When a man cheats on his wife, it is often the case that the mistress will be considered the problem. She will be despised as well as envied – representing, in the wife’s mind, the cause and result of a problematic marriage and a miserable life. If that isn’t the case, or even alongside this trend, the wife will function as a hindrance, an obstacle to what could well be a perfect life. She’s in the middle, she’s standing in the way of absolute happiness, and of course she’s detested.
But notice how the man gets away with all this? He’s escaped the rage and hatred and has now safely arrived at that wonderful side where two women are fighting over who is going to have him, investing all their time in competing against each other and focusing only on eventually eliminating one other. Now, although this is obviously insane, it is considered perfectly normal behavior in the dynamics that we have established throughout the centuries.
Read at Unsung Films: Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
As soon as Les Diaboliques began, a psychological 1955 thriller based on Pierre Boileau’s novel. I realised that a test drive of the opposite behavior was going to be taking place, and that alone was enough to thrill me. Here, two women, the wife and the mistress, get along perfectly well between them, but naturally have many unresolved issues with the man they’re sharing. One feels used, the other shared – while all along they can both see that the problem, and thus the blame, are his.
That simple and rather obvious conclusion, seemed to shock the cinema’s audience to tears, who were going from “what the hell?” to “ah, the French”, sometimes, just laughing out loud at what was clearly an absurd and far-fetched sense of humour. Because the two women who reach the end of their rope with this freaky arrangement, decide to gang up against the guy and drown him in the bathtub. Which seems to me like the opposite of absurd, and perhaps the only plausible way forward. Since, as my grandmother says, “hating all the women he likes is a never-ending job, while killing him is quick and to the point”
Henri-George Clouzot’s film is cruel but warm in a way too, as it brings these two women together in an unusual and pretty humorous way. It’s a case study, a what-if-we-approached-things-differently, and although the dynamic between them often and then catalytically changes, it’s a great idea to base a murder story on and to explore for a while and see where it takes us.
The humour is distinctly French and the cruelty rather European too. The man in question, Michel Delassalle (played by Paul Meurisse and thus, greatly resembling Albert Camus) attacks his wife with the most unthinkable lines – insults that is still too early to find in a Hollywood horror and we have to wait for another seven years and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane to enjoy. Having said this, it’s interesting to see how un-French the acting is. It’s almost like the story and script could afford to play up their Frenchness, while the acting and overall style of the two main characters Christina Delassalle (played by Vera Clouzot) and Nicole Horner (portrayed by Simone Signoret) was forced to remain as American as possible.
It’s exactly this combination that makes Les Diaboliques stand out so much and make for the fine line between a quirky independent which is brave enough to re-approach the most established gender dynamics, and a Hollywood blockbuster which plays it safe and strives towards entertaining its audience with the usual twists and turns.
Watch the trailer for Les Diaboliques here:
Watch Les Diaboliques – the full movie – here: