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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I found the remake with Richard Gere and Diane Lane ("Unfaithful")
intriguing in the way it explored the erotic pull the woman feels to
her lover. It was very good at that. Most of the early scenes,
especially any with Diane Lane, were very well done. Where Gere
dominated a scene, on the other hand -- whether because of his acting,
or flawed script or direction, I couldn't tell -- the movie felt phony
Now I know why. "Unfaithful" tries to exploit Chabrol's powerful storyline, but wants to go in its own direction, too. For instance, the woman in the story is not nearly as central in Chabrol's movie. The story there is really about her husband, and his predicament at discovering that his perfect wife is having an affair. The wounded husband is much more believable here, and thus the murder scene does not feel as lurid as when Gere bludgeons Martinez in the remake. The method of striking blows to the head is the same, yet we understand the meaning of the blows perfectly in Chabrol's original, and the scene immediately previous, when the rivals meet and discuss the affair in the lover's apartment, feels very real and organic in Chabrol (though it is still surprising to find that the husband has come to confront the lover).
By contrast, in the remake, Olivier Martinez plays that scene as part civilized troglodyte and part insouciant brat; Gere comes off as bordering on schizophrenia, or about to suffer a conniption -- a cuckold who's so de-eroticized that his sudden rage reads more as psychopathy. In a movie that purports to be about a crime of passion, the quality of passion feels more like a horror that has gone "off kilter" somehow. The scene is jarring, but not in ways that move the film along.
Having seen both movies now, I do feel like I at least understand how the story might have seemed a good candidate for a remake. La femme Infidele is so good...
It's so good I hardly thought I was watching a movie at all, but living in this story right along with the characters, albeit as troubled observer. It's a movie about the private conclusions that we come to, perhaps selfishly, that we don't share even with the people closest to us, perhaps because we are ashamed of our darkest feelings, those too taboo to admit.
There is a sense that the story's protagonists do feel shame somehow (even in the embarrassingly relieved way the lover welcomes the visit from the husband) but are all too human in the end. There is a sense of desire that emanates from all the characters, who all happen to be pretending at playing one game or another while keeping secrets from one another. Even the perfect little boy is shown to be caught up in his own storms, to the extent that his role in the movie is as more than a signifier of a healthy, prosperous family's bourgeois pride. At one point he explodes at his parents, during a tense evening, yelling at them that he hates them both.
This reading of the self in the throes of a very deep, selfish passion -- while at the same time trying to maintain appearances -- is masterful in Chabrol's movie, and I came away from it believing in the reality of these characters completely.
I can't seem to put it into words too well, but I was very impressed with the understated way this movie examines the tensions that simmer under the surface of family relationships. This is the first movie I have seen by Chabrol and I have to say-- as someone who's seen my fair share of movies touted as "masterpieces" that turn out to be middling -- my faith in the power of film as a storytelling medium is renewed by this piece.
They often say that if someone wanted to see a French bourgeois circa
1970,watching Michel Bouquet in a Claude Chabrol movie was enough!Three
times he portrayed this kind of character (this movie,"la rupture" and
"juste avant la nuit").Three times he teamed up with the director's
ex-wife ,the luminous Stephane Audran(twice as her husband ,once as..
her father-in -law )and together they worked wonders -contemporary
Chabrol movies suffer from the dearth of great actors -in "merci pour
le chocolat ,how could Jacques Dutronc equal the peerless Bouquet?
Unlike "les biches" which has not worn well because of its subject (bisexual women),once daring,now trite,"la femme infidèle" deals with an eternal story:the love triangle ,and it completely renews it:take the first thirty minutes:it is primarily a depiction of the bourgeois dolce vita: the desirable mansion,the servants ,the good little boy who makes a clean sweep of all the prizes and snubs the telly ,the chic nightclubbing....And when the tragic events occur ,it seems that they accidentally happen:who knows if ,Had Bouquet not found the lighter...Hitchcock's lovers will notice the nod to "psycho" when Bouquet gets rid of the body.
Bouquet and Audran talk to each other but they do not really communicate:here lies Chabrol's talent;when at the end ,they try to establish a true relation,they do not use words anymore:looks,gestures, speak louder than words.The jig-saw puzzle is also a good dramatic element and reflects the couple's confusion.As for the last sequence it's not at all what the audience is expecting:no cries or despair ,but a thoroughly silent scene ,where Chabrol enhances the beauty of the nature which surrounds his characters.Chabrol's thrillers of this golden era,although their endings are full of sound and fury,achieve the feat of leaving the viewer with a feeling of quietness:Michel Duchaussoy (here a cop) sailing away in "que la bête meure" ; Audran ,looking at the still waters of a pond in the dark night in "le boucher" or enjoying a balloon release in "la rupture" ;the couple Audran/Bouquet ,turning off the light for what may be his last night in "juste avant la nuit".
As for this abstract communication,Chabrol would take it to its absolute perfection with "le boucher" ,his towering achievement:besides ,like in "la femme infidèle" ,a lighter (coincidence?) plays a prominent part.
Audran's character is called Hélène.This first name would remain for three more movies (le boucher,la rupture,juste avant la nuit).And Chabrol WOULD NEVER FORGET gastronomy:here ,he gives us a piece of advice about crepe flambé.
Remake with Richard Gere,Diane Lane and Vincent Perez taking on Bouquet's Audran's and Maurice Ronet's parts.
THE UNFAITFUL WIFE (Claude Chabrol - France 1968).
Claude Chabrol's "La Femme infidèle" is an excellent thriller, or "A Psycho-sexual Study in Murder" as the film was advertised on certain posters, reflecting his cynical disgust against the petty bourgeoisie. Charles Desvallées (Michel Bouquet) becomes suspicious his wife Hélène (Stéphane Audran) is having an affair. Charles hires a private detective who comes up with the name of Victor Pegala (Maurice Ronet) and then goes off to confront his wife's lover.
Bouquet and Audran pitch their roles superbly and with an excellent score, Chabrol's cold, cynical dissection of marriage and murder is just as good as anything Hitchcock ever made. Yet, the film has Chabrol's own distinctly detached style, employing different point of view shots, instantly making the viewer part of the couple's troublesome marriage as we uncomfortably watch Stéphane Audran inevitably on her way to be unmasked. Chabrol stages a long scene giving more than a little nod to Hitchcock's PSYCHO. Besides Bouquet who always gives a tongue-in-cheek performance, his charming honey-bunny assistant in his office had me laughing each time she made her appearance.
Remade in 2002 with Richard Gere and Diane Lane as UNFAITHFUL.
Camera Obscura --- 8/10
"La Femme Infidele", which was released in 1968, followed quickly on
the heels of "Les Biches", (which, in a perhaps playfully arrogant way,
is shown as playing in a cinema during the course of the film), and
continued a glorious return to form for Chabrol after a too-long fallow
It was the first of a series of what could be regarded 'studies in adultery' starring his wife (and muse), Stephane Audran. In this one a loving husband suspects his wife of being unfaithful and, having had his suspicions confirmed by a private detective, determines to confront her lover.
Although he's often described as the French Hitchcock, Chabrol, while he has consistently proved that he has mastered the basic techniques of the suspense film genre, invariably has been at least as equally interested in the study,- indeed dissection, - of the mores and behaviour of the French bourgeoisie.
While this categorisation might suggest a tendency towards dry academic study, he has shown in his best features a masterful ability to employ a variety of techniques to present his case in a telling manner. In this instance he employs, variously, a combination of subtle character study,suspense film, Pinteresque drama, and some black comedy.
He is greatly assisted here by a clutch of exceptional performances: Audran and Maurice Ronet as the lovers, and, best of all, Michel Bouquet as the suspicious but loving husband.
(As an aside, and I'm not sure whether she served any function in the film other than mere decoration, but the husband's mini-skirted secretary appeared to me to have wandered onto the film from an adjacent French farce. But then,perhaps,it was just a case of Chabrol conforming to the norms of the day.)
Among the superbly-crafted high-points were the confrontation between lover and husband; the various domestic conversations between husband and wife where the nature of their relationship is carefully and beautifully delineated; the various conversations with the investigating policemen; and a masterly final scene (where even the briefest explanatory description would be too cruel for those who've yet to see the film).
Overall, however, what ultimately elevates the film to greatness is the way in which Chabrol presents his subjects as determined to maintain the domestic equilibrium, irrespective of, and almost oblivious to, temporary 'crises' and 'inconveniences'. And in the way in which, he, as director/puppetmaster, while at times apparently mocking, simultaneously persuades us to sympathise with his subjects
Quite possibly his finest film: but certainly quintessential Chabrol.
In Versailles, the upper class Hélène (Stéphane Audran) and Charles
Desvallees (Michel Bouquet) live a boring and detached life in their
comfortable house, and their only common interest is their beloved son
Michel. Every other day, Hélène commutes to Paris and Charles suspects
that she might be cheating on him. He hires a private eye and a couple
of days later, his suspicion is confirmed and the investigator tells
that Hélène is having a love affair with the writer Victor Pégala
(Maurice Ronet) and delivers a picture of her lover with his address to
him. Charles visits Victor in his apartment in Paris and introduces
himself as Hélène's husband, and lures him telling that he has an
agreement with his wife that tells details of her encounters. Out of
the blue, Charles hits Victor's head with a statue and kills him. Then
he dumps the body in a dirty lake and comes back home. Sooner,
detectives Duval (Michel Duchaussoy) and Gobet (Guy Marly) interview
Hélène explaining that Victor is missing and her name is in her address
book. When Hélène finds the picture of Victor in the pocket of
Charles's jacket, she destroys the evidence and learns that her husband
loves her. But the police inspectors are coming to their house again to
talk to Charles.
"La Femme Infidèle" a.k.a. "The Unfaithful Wife", is another magnificent thriller by the master of suspense Claude Chabrol. The story of a couple with a routine life lacking passion and sex that is revitalized by the adultery of the wife and the murder of her lover by her husband is sort of ironical and tragic. The open conclusion is left to the interpretation of the viewer and is also a trademark of Chabrol. In 2002, Adrian Lyne remade this film without the ambiguity of the original film and including an inexistent moral dilemma, as the usual pitiful practice of Hollywood industry. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): Not Available
The two characters primarily involved in Claude Chabrol's 1969 French
thriller The Unfaithful Wife have, at least at the beginning, rather an
idyllic and somewhat pleasant set up in their lives. When we first
encounter them, we see both the husband and titular wife with their
rather extended family in a large garden on a warm, sunny and welcoming
day; the tone of the exchanges polite, the activity nothing out of the
ordinary nor needlessly extravagant. The opening shots of such imagery
are quite crudely broken up by a blurred effect which drowns the screen
of its focus, the ideal family unit itself thus becoming difficult to
firmly latch one's eyes onto; the credits begin, some rather harsh and
somewhat official looking credits that scroll upwards in a military
manner whilst some distorting piano music plays overhead. It's a
fleeting few minutes or so of idealism in-between such a sequence, the
film going on to form a superior mediation on human behaviour
masquerading as a causality thriller as paradise is rendered corrupt
and peeking beneath the surface of the upper-classes reveals deception
and titular unfaithfulness.
The film is unrelentingly fascinating, a piece never for more than a few seconds ever in the slightest bit uninteresting; a grim and somewhat bleak study how love, anger and victimisation brew together to create a cocktail of violence and anguish and how that in itself can come to forge a relationship which was never initially set in stone. The film's methodical lead is Michel Bouquet's Charles Desvallees, a lawyer with his own office located in a small enough building amidst the bustling Parisian streets away from the large, more ruralised country house in which he lives with his family. The family, of which, is made up of the titular wife, a certain Hélène (Audran) who's about the same age as her husband and is the mother to young son Michel (Di Napoli). The warm and welcoming day in the garden spent with Charles' mother and Hélène's in-law turns into evening, Charles' verbal illustrating of various plans he would like to have happen the following day involving both he and Hélène out and about doing things are shot down with casual reasons which excuse Hélène from attending. As they sit and observe a television broadcast later on during the evening, the signal begins to break up and the machine ceases to function as well as it might, thus further insinuating a breaking down of communication of an operative item and echoing their marriage.
At work, and aside from Charles' rich circle of friends and busy schedule, he observes through young female secretary Brigitte (Turri) the very essence of temptation. His suspicion brought about by his wife's behaviour, and Chabrol's own channelling onto the audience of signs and notions towards an upsetting of a paradise-like set up or the malfunctioning of a working order, beginning to resonate. Desperate, as thoughts; feelings and drama all at once clinically escalate, Charles darts to the nearest payphone to call a place of business Hélène said she'd be; the piano music from earlier only suggesting at something seriously wrong with what idealism we were seeing beginning to pipe up again to form the overlying soundtrack to the news she is not where she said she'd be.
The painful inevitable is confirmed when a private detective Charles hires reveals to him the truth; that Hélène is, in fact, having an affair and with a writer named Victor Pégala (Ronet) based not so far away. The film allows Charles a moment you sparsely see in today's age of thrillers; a moment of contemplation that has him stand beside a river flowing through the urbanised locale in which the reveal was announced so as to merely look across to the other side of it, digesting what it is has been exposed to him. It is around about here in the film that Chabrol applies a gear change so dramatic and so effective that it propels the piece beyond its combined brooding roots of paranoia and suspicion and into an echelon of unpredictability; horror and human emotion in its some of its rawest forms. In short, the switch in tone and content works remarkably; the film coming to have Charles journey to the man and see him.
The film's causality infused thrills and scares following the venturing into the territory it goes near does nothing to distract the film from its overall tract; it is a film that is able to evoke just as much an on-edge reaction from its audience following a character's glance or nervous facial reaction as it can from a minor car accident. Chabrol's capturing of some of the interplay towards the conclusion as two people are forced into hiding varying secrets from both one another and the police is fascinating, and the film does not loose sight of son Michel's role as the picturesque representative of innocence caught up amidst all this and made to suffer out of others' ill-gotten decisions. Chabrol's overall ending is decidedly bleak, but his conclusion that the two we examine whom previously appeared to fall away from each other only to reconnect when some sort of duality was established, is dangerously uplifting given the sorts of events which aided in this and the actions the lovebirds undertook; all of it combining to form a superior thriller of an immensely sophisticated ilk.
Sitting down to this one I expected art and intelligence more than much in the way of excitement, happily despite its elegantly measured pace and glacial stylings La Femme Infidele exerts an impressively tight grip from early on. The film centers upon Charles and Helene, a well to do couple who seem to have it all, well appointed house, well behaved son and chic friends, but all is not so well for them. Their life together is cold, frozen even and Helene is having an affair with a Parisian writer. Charles becomes suspicious and hires a PI to investigate and what follows is not difficult to predict. The joy here is in the performances and the studied unease, director Claude Chabrol handles things with refreshing economy and the film mounts with ease from the chill of its characters to a growing disturbing feel, what little of violence and the macabre there is is displayed in a marvellously matter of fact fashion that gives it all the more impact. Michel Boucqet is powerfully creepy yet somewhat sympathetic as Charles, he may not be much of a husband but his inner turmoil is fascinating, whist for all her similar coldness it is hard to condemn the actions of Helene as skillfully portrayed by Stephane Audran. Maurice Ronet is equally nuanced as Helenes lover despite his small amount of screen time, an apologetic and aware turn with a sort of flawed humanity that contrasts well with the coldness of Charles and Helene. Unshowy in its technique and focused on drama for much of the way this is not a film likely to give much solace to those drawn by the description of Chabrol as a "French Hitchcock", this is subtle but potent stuff, even poignant towards the end with its rays of forlorn hope but without pandering to commercial instincts. Highly recommended, this is a smart near masterpiece with much to think about and I look forward to delving more into Chabrol's oeuvre, of which this seems a perfect starting point.
Claude Chabrol is sometimes known as 'The French Hitchcock', and while
the two didn't exactly make the same type of thriller; it's easy to see
where the comparisons come from, and both of these great directors are
masters of their crafts! This is only the third Chabrol film I've seen,
but once again I'm extremely impressed and looking forward to seeing
more! Though I have limited experience of his films, Chabrol's
thrillers to me are more brooding and personal than Hitchcock's; and
while they lack the brazen thriller element that made most of
Hitchcock's oeuvre so good to watch, it's made up for in panache and
intrigue! The Unfaithful Wife puts its focus on an upper class French
family in a big mansion somewhere just outside of a big city. We follow
them for a short while until it becomes obvious to the husband that his
wife's constant trips into town are a clue that she is having an
affair. The husband then decides to hire a private detective to
investigate his wife, and after having his fears concerned; the husband
turns up at the lover's house with murder in mind...
The film appears to be so relaxed that at times you may wonder whether you are actually watching a thriller. But that is what makes this film so effective; Chabrol often lets his film settle, but there is always tension bubbling beneath the surface and the film is always intriguing, even when there is little going on. I won't spend too long talking about the acting and production values as obviously both are thoroughly professional and give the film infinite amounts of credibility. Most of the action focuses on the couple inside their big house and this benefits the film greatly as we soon get to know the characters. The central scene is clearly the murder sequence, although again Chabrol focuses on the build up rather than the actual pay off and the murder is as cold and brutal as it was obviously intended to be. The Unfaithful Wife is clearly a lesson in how suspense cinema should be; even more subtle than Hitchcock, this film manages to be constantly fascinating in spite of the fact that not a great deal transpires over the course of the film, and once again it's another great film on Chabrol's resume!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Alice Liddel's (what a wonderful name!!) comment is arguable but, I
think, off the mark. Many different things are going on in this movie,
and one of the reasons Chabrol is admired is his skill in creating and
using ambiguity, which lures the viewer in, requires him to make his
own interpretation, and thus involves him in the movie much more deeply
than would happen with a clear, obvious story line.
To me what happens between the husband and wife is, they both have become disinterested with each other, sexually and emotionally; the wife takes a lover and, as she and we find out the purpose of this later, tests/taunts her husband: to reignite her love for him, he must prove that he loves her by doing something outrageous, difficult, dangerous, etc. She might or might not have had this in mind at a conscious level; it appears that she did not, which makes it even more interesting. He does it -- again, probably unintentionally -- and thus recreates his love and passion for her, and hers for him. By accident, they have successfully re-courted and re-conquered each other.
This is what it's about, and would be regardless of the ending -- which Chabrol has (again)left ambiguous. Unfortunately, the crucial deed that saved the marriage turned out to be a murder, so there has to be at least a strong hint that they won't get away scot free.
An irritatingly slow movie for quite a while, but ultimately very well done and rewarding for the viewer.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The Unfaithful Wife" is the very definition of the word "slow-burner"
this means that if you enjoy fast paced, big budget, high concept films
packed full of decapitations, fast car chases and thrilling pursuits
then this is not for you. However, if you're like me and do enjoy all
of those things but also appreciate brilliant direction and
cinematography and replace a body count with atmosphere and tension now
and again then I think that you should really admire the well crafted
work done here by the brilliant Chabrol.
Not a lot happens in "The Unfaithful Wife" as it is centred around one thing, a marriage in despair and a jealous husband, however like other great films it manages to remain gripping and masterful. I really liked the idea of the story and Chabrol plays it out in a Hitchcock fashion, although I find Hitchcock quite overrated and only really enjoying "Psycho" but Chabrol pans the story out in a suspense fashion and when the husband does murder his wife's lover it has a fabulous realism about it. The tension remains high and the suspense is bursting through the roof! but, unlike my family, you have to be willing to look out for brilliant directing techniques.
The cinematography is excellent, it captures the central characters and the breaking down of the marriage very intensely, adding to the gripping nature of the film. Chabrol has crafted something quite brilliant here and although it might not be as good as his others like "The Beast Must Die" it still has a fantastic realism about it. Give it a go!
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