Saturday, May 12, 2012

Les Diaboliques

Tonight's Essential, at 8:00 PM on TCM, is the 1955 French film Les diaboliques. You might know the film better under its English-language title, Diabolique.

Paul Meurisse plays Michel Delassale, the headmaster of an all-boys boarding school somewhere outside Paris. He's not a particularly nice guy, feeding crappy food to the kids and rationing the wine for the adults. He's married to Christina (Véra Clouzot, wife of the director, Henri-Georges Clouzot), but is having an affair with Nicole (Simone Signoret). However, Michel is just as much a jerk to Nicole as he is to Christina, his employees, and his students. So Nicole and Christina get an idea which is, well, diabolical: they'll kill Michel, and make the death look like he got drunk, fell in the school's pool, and drowned.

So, the three protagonists set off for the not-very-romantic town of Niort (a real place in western France and the birthplace Henri-Georges Clouzot), where the two women take Michel to a grimy apartment, slip a mickey in his drink, drown him in the bathtub, wrap up his body and put it in the back of their Citroën 2CVX, and drive back to the school to dump the body in the pool. So far so good. And then the women have to report Michel as missing. The police come, and the pool is drained... and there's no body!

At this point, things start getting weirder and weirder. Michel's clothes show up, but not on Michel; and one of the students swears up and down that he saw Michel! Surely there's something not right going on here. Or is there? Perhaps a police inspector can help find the body, but Christina obviously doesn't want the body found.

At this point it's a bit tough to go on without giving away the key plot points. Les Diaboliques is, after all, a suspense movie, and quite a good one at that. The characters and settings are much less glamorous even than a Hollywood noir, where the studio system still shone through. This feels like a much more real France than the France of, say, The Young Girls of Rochefort.

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