WARNING: if you haven’t seen Les Diaboliques, then go away and watch it right now and come back. Seriously.
Okay, now that all of the people who have seen this film are here I can provide an extremely accurate reconstruction of my reaction to the ending: OH MY GOD?! WHAT? *lots of incoherent words, eyes bulging, me standing up from my chair and shaking my head in confusion.*
The film begins by introducing us to the boarding school, which is run by a sadistic headmaster, Michael Delassalle (played by Paul Meurisse), and his wife Christina (Vera Clouzot). We soon discover the headmaster has a mistress (Nicole Horner, played by Simone Signoret), and quickly the wife and mistress devise a plan to kill Delassalle so they can escape from him, and Christina can be in control of the boarding school again (it’s all funded by her, anyway).
Long story short: Christina gets kind of annoying because she’s like ‘oh I’ll do it let’s go’ and then two seconds later is like ‘wait, no, let’s not do it,’ but considering she was preparing to murder her husband all while being ill, I’ll let her off. This also makes her character more dimensional and realistic because I think that’s exactly how I would’ve reacted. Eventually they do it (by driving a flat that Nicole is a tenant of and then calling the husband/jerk/asshole to come to the flat) and it’s awesome and everything you weren’t expecting and the narrative just gets more and more intricate and delicate and then BAM. The ending.
I actually quite admire Nicole Horner for her ruthlessness; she played being the supportive friend very well and fooled me and Christina and everyone in the world.
However, because there are a million reviews of this film on the Internet, I’m not going to bother writing and analysing the ending and the build up to it, as I’m sure there’s enough in-depth reviews on this out there (Rogert Ebert, duh). So instead, I’m just going to analyse it as a whole film and hope this doesn’t come up sounding like an essay for school.
With the release of Gone Girl still looming over us all, thrillers, whodunits and plot twist films seem to be making a come back. But, this film is probably the best one I’ll ever see. It’s Gone Girl, but Gone Right (nudge, nudge). Les Diaboliques manages to create a raw, completely unexpected and intricate narrative without substituting the shots or depth of characters or score for it.
The three main characters are all multi-faceted and provide the narrative something. But, it’s not just these three that prove to be more than cardboard cutouts of people; the supporting characters also stand alone, for example the wife and husband: they could easily have a whole film dedicated to themselves — from the husband’s need for silence and the wife’s love for listening to the radio, it’s clear to see these are characters that have been thought about.
The shots have depth, too. They are suggestive, interesting and completely draw the watcher in. They add to the experience of the shock factor of the film and prove to show that cinema is art.
One of my favourite sequence of shots from this film, and perhaps every film I’ve watched, is towards the end when Christina is running through the school, and the shadows and beams of light mix showing her state of mind: reality mixed with the paranoia that darkness brings.
It’s clear too how and where Hitchock drew inspiration from the cinematography and directorial skills for Psycho. We see the classic drain shots, the voyeuristic complexities brought to audiences in the bathroom, and the shadows.
Les Diaboliques is intriguing, original, and most importantly, a vital pioneer for the surge in psychological horror films.