L'ENFER, a tale of marital jealousy gone wild, represents an intriguing posthumous collaboration between French filmmakers Claude Chabrol and the late Henri-Georges Clouzot. Amid dark humor and stylistic flourishes, it generates considerable suspense.
To some observers, Paul (Francois Cluzet) might seem a man to be envied. He owns a lakeside country inn and is married to the beautiful and charming Nelly (Emmanuelle Beart), with whom he has a young son. Paul should be happy, but instead he's miserable, convinced that Nelly is unfaithful. Paul
knows he should be running the hotel, but he grows increasingly obsessed with accounting for his wife's every move, trailing her on what appear to be innocent errands, and prowling around in search of clues that will confirm his suspicions. The hotel guests are no help. Aren't they all smirking at
Paul behind his back, laughing at his inability to see what even a casual stranger can tell about Nelly's infidelity? Although Paul's suspicions initially center on Martineau (Marc Lavoine), a young garage mechanic, his dementia mounts to the point where he's convinced that Nelly is sleeping with
every man she sees. He begins to experience hallucinations and creates angry scenes; hotel guests begin to check out. One night, Paul violently rapes Nelly. He follows her to the doctor (Andre Wilms), who instructs them to return to the hotel and wait for an ambulance. Now Paul unravels
completely: he ties Nelly to the bed and, after hitting his head in a fall, apparently cuts his own throat. The next morning, Nelly is still tied up; Paul is alive but inert.
L'ENFER is Claude Chabrol's adaptation of an original screenplay by the late French director Clouzot, best known for THE WAGES OF FEAR and DIABOLIQUE. Clouzot began filming this tale of a husband's fevered jealousy in 1964, but production was halted when the filmmaker suffered a heart attack.
Clouzot lived another 13 years, but his project, which was to star Romy Schneider, never got back on track. Chabrol's update sets things right in a fascinating blend of elegant style and psychological suspense marred only by a final reel likely to leave viewers puzzled as to the narrative's
resolution. With its themes of betrayal and psychological torment, this is a quintessential Clouzot script, devoid of all but the bitterest humor. It's also right up Chabrol's cinematic alley, and the director gives it his own stamp, offering a lusher, sunnier landscape, and a heroine with perhaps
a shade more innocence, than Clouzot would have provided.
One can only imagine the performance Schneider, fresh from her apprenticeship on Luchino Visconti's episode of BOCCACCIO '70 and Orson Welles' THE TRIAL, would have given as the alluring Nelly, but, among today's actresses, it's hard to imagine a better choice than Beart, whose ethereal beauty
suggests a kind of angelic passion. She effectively conveys Nelly's contrasts--devoted and good-humored for the most part, but not above a flirtation that Paul can't help resenting. A scene in which the hotel guests watch a home movie underscores Paul's growing madness: he sees his wife and a
local man in a torrid embrace, while the others view harmless footage of Paul and Nelly's child on the beach. Reality and Paul's obsessive fears grow increasingly indistinct. Cluzet is excellent as the troubled Paul, whose affability melts in the heat of his wildest imaginings. Jean-Pierre Cassel
and Christiane Minazzoli provide a welcome lighter touch as an older couple whose passion for each other seems on constant burn.
L'ENFER (the title can be translated as Hell) may remind some viewers of Roman Polanski's REPULSION and THE TENANT, both of which explored similar psychological unravelings. A sequence in which Paul follows his wife into town even recalls the obsession of the James Stewart character in VERTIGO.
But Chabrol is too great an artist to be characterized as imitative, and an opening montage in which he speeds the viewer through Paul and Nelly's courtship, wedding and parenthood shows off his technical precision in a fashion that's quite dazzling. So too is the movie's denouement, a lavish,
suspenseful scene involving a razor, which merges actuality with the unreal so completely the viewer may leave the theater at a loss to know exactly what happened.
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- Released: 1994
- Rating: NR
- Review: L'ENFER, a tale of marital jealousy gone wild, represents an intriguing posthumous collaboration between French filmmakers Claude Chabrol and the late Henri-Georges Clouzot. Amid dark humor and stylistic flourishes, it generates considerable suspense. T… (more)