The main reason I started this blog was to make me watch more movies, and to vary the kinds of movies I watched. The first part of that has been well and truly accomplished with me watching hundreds of movies for the first time, instead of falling back on old favourites over and over again. But l’m not sure if I’ve varied my selections enough. I still watch mainly American movies, with directors, writers and actors that make them a pretty safe bet. So this year, I’m forcing myself to seek out more international movies. With Foreign Language Weekends, every weekend(ish) during 2016, I’ll review two(ish) non-English language movies.
“Watch out, ma’am. That’s the deep part where you are.”
Here’s a movie that is the perfect example of why I decided to do Foreign Movie Weekends this year. It’s one I’ve owned in DVD for a long, long time, yet never got around to watching. It’s one that I knew pretty much nothing about before pressing play, but just knew it was important and that I needed to see it eventually. It’s also one that totally paid off because of that. I guess I’m saying that if you haven’t seen Diabolique before, you should probably stop reading this review now. Because the less you know about it in any way, the better the payoff is.
Christina (Vera Clouzot) owns a boys’ boarding school. But being the owner doesn’t give her any power or control. Instead, her husband (Paul Meurisse as Michel), who is also the school’s headmaster, tyrannically runs the school and his marriage. He’s even openly conducting an affair with another teacher, Nicole (Simone Signoret), which he makes no attempts to hide from his wife and the rest of the faculty. But Christina and Nicole don’t hate each other, in fact, the kind of bond over their shared abuse at the hands of Michel.
With a long weekend coming up, Nicole hatches a plan, she and Christina will go to Nicole’s home village a few hundred kilometres away. Luring Michel there, Nicole’s plan is to drug him and drown him in the bath, before dumping his body back at the school, in the pool, so it looks like an accidental drowning. Christina is at first reluctant, but Michel’s constant asshole behavior makes her Nicole’s only slightly reluctant accomplice.
I had no idea what kind of movie Diabolique was going in. Actually, its title made me think it might be some kind of thriller or murder based tale. And it sort of is. But the first third or so did such a great job of steering me away from that, that when the murder, thriller stuff did klick in, it was a really satisfying left turn. The mundanity of life at the school, the misery of Christina and Michel’s marriage, the way the other teachers try to make themselves seem and feel important and authoritative. All of that works to build a world so real and believable, when the craziness does kick it, it kicks that much harder.
Apparently Alfred Hitchcock tried to buy the rights to the book that this move was based on. And that makes sense. This is such a quintessential Hitchcock story and he would have directed the shit out of it. But I’m kind of glad he didn’t, because the Frenchness of Diabolique made it all the better. The unfamiliarity and lack of personal context I have for that period of time makes the story a little more mysterious. My unfamiliarity and lack of personal context I have for French culture makes it a little more mysterious again. All of that goes to make its thriller and mystery aspects all the more effective and surprising.