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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Diabolique
Diabolique
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Review by Heather Picker | posted January 4, 2000 | E-mail the Author
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"Les Diabolique," which means "The Devils" in English, is based upon the novel "Celle Qui N'Etait Plus," written by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, the men behind the novel "D'Entre Les Morts," which was the basis of Sir Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece "Vertigo." Henri-Georges Clouzot ("The Wages of Fear") uses in "Diabolique" what could be called Hitchcockian flair, except there is no real flair to the film, and in that lies it's greatness.
Michel Delassalle (Paul Meurisse) is the sadistic headmaster of a school for boys. At the beginning of the film his wife, fragile Christina (Vera Clouzot), and his mistress, Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret) converse, comforting each other over what they've endured with Michel. Not only does he physically and verbally abuse them, and is conducting his affair with Nicole is a manner so public that the schoolboys speak of it, but he is also cheap and as a result the students are given little to eat, and are treated badly. The school actually belongs to Christina, as does what money the couple has, but Christina has a heart condition and is submissive to her Michel, who always has in mind the windfall he'll come in to in the event of his wife's death.
Nicole and Christina have devised an intricate plan that includes luring Michel to Nicole's home in Niort (where director Clouzot grew up) before drowning him and temporarily disposing of his body in an unlikely location. Christina, who is very religious, has doubts about going through with it, but Nicole applies enough pressure to afford them going ahead with the plot. There are many twists and turns in the plot, and to reveal anything else would be unfair. By now the ending is famous enough that most people, even those who have never seen it, know how it ends, but the suspense that builds from the opening moments, and really picks up the pace in the last half-hour of the film, is amazing and truly a viewing experiences that fans of classic film must have.
Signoret was a great casting choice; Nicole is somewhat masculine, which lends a little tension to her scenes with Christina, but there is an icy edge to her that never wavers. Meurisse is the portrait of despicable, domineering husbands in his role, and Vera Clouzot, wife of the director, is competent as Christina. Her doubts of getting away with killing Michel, her fears and reactions, are so in the moment that her performance is possibly the greatest addition to suspense-building in "Diabolique." As retired detective Alfred Fichet, Charles Vanel conjures up images of Peter Falk in "Columbo." The script is kind of bare, it gives us enough information that we easily exert more effort concentrating on the character's than we do what is actually being said.
"Diabolique" has been brought to DVD as entry 35 in the Criterion Collection. With a MSRP of $29.99, it is the typical featureless disc. The most remarkable thing about the DVD is the transfer. Presented in it's original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.33:1, the digital transfer was created from a 35mm fine-grain composite master, made from a restored negative (from Criterion's transfer summary). The Janus/Home Vision Cinema collection, in cooperation with Criterion, made the disc possible. Standard menus, also included are color bars). Includes a two-page booklet filled with an essay about the movie by Danny Peary (contains mostly run-of-the-mill info., such as the anecdote about the letter Hitchcock received from a guy complaining about his wife's shower/bathing phobia after seeing "Diabolique" and "Psycho.).
The transfer is outstanding. There are occasional, brief, moments during which the film has the same kind of grainy markings that you see when watching a movie at the theater. The rest of the time, the picture quality is excellent. The blacks are solid and there is great contrast between grays. The sound isn't as pleasing, but it is acceptable. The dialogue is all clear, as is most of the score. The English subtitles are optional (the movie is in French). My French isn't very good, but from what I recognized, some of the subtitles were translated loosely. However, the subtitles are reliable in that they are always shown during dialogue (unlike some older foreign films Criterion has released), and are nice-looking; very readable.
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