La Femme Infidele (1969) Claude Chabrol

 

Like Hitchcock, who he is often compared to, Claude Chabrol has never quite received the same level of respect his fellow new wave colleagues Godard and Truffaut have over the years. Generally working within a more conventional framework, his films focused on the dark secrets of the French bourgeoisie; generally adultery and murder.  Chabrol never provoked the intellectual following his fellow new wave comrades enjoyed over the years, when needed; he willingly bowed to the making of a commercial film so he could gain the freedom to do a more personal project. 

Many of Chabrol’s early films starred the arresting French actress Stephane Audran, his then wife, whose cool detached manner always fit perfectly into Chabrol’s bleak view of the French upper class.

In the United States Chabrol’s film rarely got beyond the art house circuit and rarely outside of New York having never had a financial windfall of grosses on any of his works. One of Chabrol’s biggest successes, both artistically and financially was his 1969 thriller “Le Femme Infidele.”

Here we have Charles Dasvellees (Michel Bouguet), an upper middle class businessman who suspects his wife Helene (Audran) of having an affair and hires a detective to prove himself right. Once he learns who the lover is, one Victor Pegala (Maurice Ronet), a divorced writer living in a small apartment, he calmly and coldly sophisticatedly goes to his apartment, introduces himself as Helene’s husband and claims that he and his wife have an arrangement.  She can have her lovers and he can have his.  Though Chabrol films these scenes very matter of fact they come across as to the viewer as unsettling. Your collar begins to fit just a little too tight. Can Charles really be this blasé?”  The answer comes soon enough when Charles stoic demeanor snaps after Victor gives a tour of his small apartment and he sees the unmade bed where he seems to envision Helene and Victor made love.  With an unexpected swift movement Charles whacks Victor on the head with a heavy ornament he picked up off a table. A lifetime of civilized living is gone.  What follows is a methodical cleanup of a murder scene reminiscent of Norman Bates cleaning up after “Mother” massacred Janet Leigh in the shower, the entire sequence from the initial cleanup to the dumping of the wrapped up body into a lake repeatedly reminds one of Hitchcock’s masterpiece.

As the police begin an investigation after Victor’s disappearance, they discover Helene’s name and address among Victor’s belongings. A series of visits begin to the Dasvellees home. Helene admits she knows him but claims she cannot remember when she last saw him. Charles claims to have never met him. The police are not convinced either is telling the truth.

One day Helene finds a photograph of Victor, with his address written on the back, in one of Charles suit pockets. She realizes Charles knew about the affair and that he killed Victor. A small self gratifying smile appears on her face. Helene takes the photo.  Chabrol’s camera methodically watches her come down the stairs and go outside where we see her carefully setting the photo on fire destroying the evidence. 

Still there is something else going on with the police as they appear one more time finding the Dasvellees family outside of their house. Just before Charles goes and talks to them, he declares his love for Helene and she does the same for him. As he walks toward the police Chabrol leaves Helene and their young boy far back in the distance. We watch the conversation from Helene’s POV but like her cannot hear what is being said. Suddenly, Charles turns around and looks back. Chabrol’s camera now reverses to look back from a distance toward Helene and their son. The camera begins to move slowly to the right behind some leaves obscuring slightly the mother and child. The film ends without answering many questions. Only the affirmation of their love beyond the dark secrets is what we are sure of.

Chabrol’s camera is exquisite in its movement, like Hitchcock he is a master of camera placement. There is no unnecessary movement. You see only what he wants you to see and it is all part of the succulent pleasures this movie offers.     

 ****1/2

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7 comments on “La Femme Infidele (1969) Claude Chabrol

  1. Sam Juliano says:

    LA FEMME INFIDELE, eh John? Now you are really talking! Well, it’s safe to say that by any barometer of measurement this is one of this towering New Wave auteur’s greatest films, and one that (as you note) most compellingly negotiates Chabrol’s very bleak view of the upper classes. In this sense it bears some similarities to his equally blistering LA CEREMONIE. It’s obviously for a number of reasons an influential film too, as the 2002 American re-make by Adrian Lyne featured Diane Lane and Richard Gere. Lane actually won the N.Y. Film Critics award for Best Actress for her performance here, besting Julianne Moore for FAR FROM HEAVEN.

    Any way, this is a cold and cynical film, with the typically potent burn that it’s director is known for. You’ve penned a terrific review here John!

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    • John Greco says:

      Thank you Sam. Chabrol’s style fits this material so perfectly. A film I can watch over and over. I like the Lyne remake very much too though not in the same class as the original, certainly interesting in its own way.

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  2. Dave says:

    John – I only skimmed through much of the plot detail here, as I haven’t seen this one. Chabrol is my next focus once I work my through the director countdown at Goodfella’s. His work sounds very much to my taste, but outside of the Le Boucher (which I really liked), I have seen any of his work.

    Knowing that there are entire bodies of work from great directors that I still have to get to makes me very happy… an endless number of great films out there still waiting for me to “discover” them!

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    • John Greco says:

      Dave, I am sure you will like this. It is definitely a masterwork. It is always great to discover the body of work of a “new” director.

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  3. […] John Greco has another excellent review up, this time on La Femme Infidele by New Wave master Claude Chabrol: https://twentyfourframes.wordpress.com/2010/05/29/la-femme-infidele-1969-claude-chabrol/ […]

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  4. I enjoyed reading your review and have added another film to my ever expanding list.

    This sounds worth viewing and will need to come back to catch up on your other reviews.

    Cheers!

    Like

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