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I love a line in this movie from the executive Masson, he said he had
his house designed by a modern architect to avoid the sclerosis of
becoming bourgeois. Thats exactly what I think when I see modernist
furniture and architecture. It's made for future people,
dysfunction-free, productive, and clairvoyant. Only that's not quite
how it works out. Here we have post-bourgeois people, who find
themselves, like all the best swimmers, more likely to drown. They try
to reinvent morality and instead trespass into treacherous areas which
the ignorant forbid themselves through superstition, in the process
jettisoning the wisdom of ages.
Yes this is a Chabrol film but don't believe it's a thriller, what we have here is more along the lines of Bergman. The police in this film are portrayed as merely being obnoxious, a nuisance to everyone involved in the murder. We are constantly waiting for the detective Cavanna to disappear from the screen.
We have a view here of people whom I'm sure Matthew Barney would call almost crystalline, devoid of potentiality. The film is so awful in this respect that it almost made me glad that we only tend to live eighty years. The tired-eyed men in this movie are weighed down with disillusion and regret, waiting for the end, their successes mere dust. Just before the night, indeed. Gone are their protean days, gone are the Alpheuses of youth. It's not so much a murder thriller as an essay into death. Masson, Tellier et al would welcome the cool breeze whispering through the cypresses on the island of the dead. One startling shot from a train shows Paris in twilight, looking grubby and ready for death itself.
I think more than anything this film is about mortality. Nowhere do we see hot blood in this film, only palsy and the damp skin of the pneumonic, the husband of the mudered woman even comforts the murderer. One part of the movie that I find astonishing is when Masson sees his employee of many many years, who has just been caught embezzling by the police and is now in custody. Masson looks at him with compassion, but the old man, who is now in a sense freer than he ever has been, looks him straight in the eye and tells him to screw himself. Masks off and a bonfire of the vanities.
This film is concentrated sulphuric acid, for more of the same see Les Bonnes Femmes and Les Cousins.
This is the most morally exquisite of Chabrol's many explorations of
the human condition. Guilt, forgiveness, revenge coexist and mutually
triumph. Many of us assume these three moral stances are mutually
incompatible. Chabrol balances them against each other and then fuses
them together. The actors reveal their inner dilemmas with gestures
more than words. Deep intentions run across surface motives. And the
final gesture of this compelling film casts all that went before into
another, deeper level. Of course, no deed is as simple as it seems. But
few appreciate as Chabrol does here that our all too common morally
mixed motives can continue to coexist to the grave. No evil deed is
ever straightforward, but neither are the best ones.
Had Chabrol filmed this in the style of Bergman, this film would be a Criterion Classic. But filmed as a thriller, it has sadly failed to gain the audience and admiration it so richly deserves. It is a philosophical triumph!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
...Et regardait Cain (Victor Hugo,La Légende des Siècles)(transl: The
eye was in the grave and looking at Cain...)
The follow-up to "la Rupture" ,with the same actors (Bouquet and Audran),"Juste Avant la Nuit" is its exact contrary.In the light of the chilly -and with hindsight ,totally unfair-reviews "la Rupture" had received,Chabrol came back to the simple bald style of "la Femme Infidèle" ."La Rupture" had a lot of subplots,characters and action whereas "Juste Avant la Nuit" is not even a thriller:it's pure psychological drama;and there are only three characters: the husband (who sleeps with his best friend's wife),the wife and the friend.
Charles (Bouquet) accidentally killed his lover as they were playing S/M games.No one suspects him,not even the victim's friend who saw him once there in the room where they used to meet.Life could go on.Like Michel Duchaussoy in "Que la Bete Meure" (1969) ,he could get away with it.He isn't even a suspect.The Police investigate ,but they do not ask him any questions.
The main originality of "Juste Avant la Nuit" is that Charles is his own worst enemy.He is literally eaten with remorse ,he wants to be punished!After all,in his advertising agency,his accountant who has embezzled is arrested and will be tried.So why not him? Little by little,he confesses the whole thing to his wife who thinks that" it's only an accident" .Audran's character possesses ambiguity: in several respects ,she 's still some kind of child;we see her make chocolate cake and play with her children;we never see her have sex with her husband and they do not share the same bed (an element which was already present in "la Femme Infidèle" ) The scene where Bouquet describes his crime and his -obscure- motives is frighteningly intense ,Chabrol makes us attend the scene in lavish details without using any flashbacks (the prologue was also very restrained ).The looks and smiles which were a true sign language in "la Femme Infidele" have been replaced by low voices,almost whispering.(Half of the lines are whispered) When he tells the victim's husband the whole truth,the man seems impassible ,a Buddah's face."I could have done the same ,should Helene have been Laura" "I do not like revenge" .
"You want to be punished cause you want to suffer " his wife screams out of despair."You used to see that girl for the same reasons" .
Bouquet gives a tormented complex portrayal of a bourgeois -Bouquet says he is afraid of becoming a bourgeois,that's perhaps why Chabrol takes pity on him in the last sequences - who thinks that any crime must be punished :he is in direct contrast to his character in "la Rupture".
"Juste Avant la Nuit" belongs to that short period (4 or 5 years ) during which Chabrol was arguably the best director in France and was making the most brilliant films of his career.
All those works end in quietness and peace : on the sea("Que la bête meure",where Michel Duchaussoy sails away),in a luminous green landscape in "la Femme Infidèle" ,down by a river ("le Boucher" ) ,with a balloon release ("la Rupture") or here in front of the sea where children are playing. "They're beginning to forget" Grannie says ....
An extraordinary film. Chabrol turns his keen eye and powers of observation to middle-class morality and psychological torment, never losing his rich sense of humor. The characters are complex and their motivations not always easy to discern. Chabrol views them caustically but also with compassion. It is part of a series of several terrific films he made between 1968 and 1973. Most fans of Chabrol consider this his pre-eminent period, and this film one of his very best.
Possibly the best film Chabrol made, along with 'La femme Infidele' and
'Le boucher'. An intense psychological study and not really a thriller
this was the first Chabrol film I ever watched. At first I was left
confused and disappointed, however this powerful and moving film slowly
revealed it's hidden beauty with each viewing.
This film more than any other of Chabrol's has entered my consciousness, Michael Bouquet's acting is very memorable and Stephanie Audran is astonishingly beautiful. There is no hint of mawkishness or sentimentality and one is left moved and glad of so poignant a masterpiece.
Just Before Nightfall is another Claude Chabrol film that focuses on
infidelity and again it's an intriguing drama and an excellent
exploration of the human condition. The film starts with a murder - but
this is clearly not the point of the film as the murder happens right
at the start and it's off-screen; the main focus of this film is the
guilt felt by the lead character and the whole film focuses on that and
it's effect on the character as well as all the people in his life. The
film is based on a novel by Edouard Atiyah, and the basic plot is
rather simple and really serves only as a base for the central focus of
the film. The plot focuses on Charles Masson. Charles is having an
affair with Laura, the wife of his friend François. The two practises
S&M with one another and Charles' life is thrown into turmoil when he
accidentally strangles Laura to death. He later learns that Laura's
marriage with François was not the average marriage as both had other
partners, but he is still consumed by guilt and it impacts his life
with his beautiful wife Hélène and their three children.
As is always the case with Chabrol's thrillers, this one is not heavy on action, suspense and tension; but that is more than made up for by the central character study. All the main characters are developed well and believable. The main character, Charles, is certainly the most interesting of the piece; the way that guilt overtakes him provides a different take on the common murderer theme and makes for a very interesting watch. As ever with Chabrol films, the production values are excellent and the performances are superb. The central cast of Michel Bouquet, François Périer and the beautiful Stéphane Audran are all perfectly placed in their roles and provide the film with a strong backbone. The film doesn't move particularly quickly but Chabrol always keeps things interesting by keeping the focus on the lead characters and the central situation. Overall, Just Before Nightfall is an intriguing and thoughtful film handling the burden of guilt and I would not hesitate to name this film as one of Chabrol's very best alongside the likes of This Man Must Die, Le Boucher and Wedding in Blood.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The handful of Chabrol movies I've seen ("This Man Must Die", "The Nada
Gang", "Violette", "Inspecteur Lavardin" and now "Just Before
Nightfall") are all good movies, and they all have a quality of calm
deliberateness about them. They also all have a quality of strangeness
that lies under the surface of normality.
A building and street look normal, but see into its window and there is a crime occurring. This reminds me of "Frenzy", but it is not an imitation. It's almost a style and subtext.
"Just Before Nightfall" is concerned mostly with the interior state of mind of Michael Bouquet after he strangles the wife of his friend and neighbor Francois Perier. He has had a sadistic-masochistic relationship with her. He cannot keep it to himself. He must confess. This reminds me of "Crime and Punishment". What's new is that his confession doesn't alleviate his angst. He feels he must go to the police and confess too! He wants to be punished, not forgiven. This comes full circle back to his masochism and self-hate for playing the S&M game with his lover. His character commits murder and then is the furthest imaginable from a Nietzschean superman or a Stirner egoist. He cannot even live with himself, as he tells us plainly.
What's very different and new about this story are, in addition, the reactions of both his wife (Stephanie Audran) and Perier when he confesses to them. Audran's character is naive, simple, practical, and very much family-centered, not self-centered. Her reaction is to preserve the family, and she does. Indeed, she goes a great distance to save her children. Perier's character is extremely interesting. He's very philosophical. He takes the news of his wife's death calmly. He hears Bouquet's confession calmly. He doesn't want revenge. Things in the past he views as not actually having happened. He's future oriented. I'll have to see this movie again to be able to understand better how he thinks.
All of this adds up to a drama that is quite interesting. Ordinarily, a movie about internal conflict is hard to script and put across, but the scenario here accomplishes it very nicely. The acting and direction bring the unusual scenario to life very nicely too, with the help of the whole production team. The costumes and makeup come to mind especially, and the house in which some scenes occur is unique and interesting too.
Though coming from Chabrol's major phase (1967-1975), this was only
recently released on DVD and exclusively on R2 at that!; still, I had
missed an incongruous Saturday morning broadcast of the film on Italian
TV several years back. Ironically, even if it can lay a claim to being
among the director's best-regarded efforts, I admit to having found
such lesser-known Chabrol titles as DEATH RITE (1976) and ALICE OR THE
LAST ESCAPADE (1977) both of which immediately preceded this viewing
more readily satisfying
though the fact that JUST BEFORE NIGHTFALL
treads typically bourgeois i.e. inherently mundane territory, whereas
the others were fanciful (thus essentially lightweight), may have had
more to do with this than anything else!
Actually, my main quibble with the film is its overlength (due to the protagonist's wallowing in self-pity, this being basically an update of Dostoyevsky's literary classic "Crime And Punishment", during the last act); in a way, it is also a reversal of Chabrol's own LA FEMME INFIDELE (1969), with the very same stars (Michel Bouquet and Stephane Audran) no less. In the latter she is initially oblivious and eventually forgiving of his having learnt about her infidelity and murdered the other man, while here it is he who has a clandestine affair, kills the woman concerned and then confesses to both the wife and his best friend (husband of the deceased and played by Francois Perier), both of whom try to convince the guilt-stricken hero thereafter not to give himself up to the Police (she even taking extreme measures to this end)! Audran, still at the height of her statuesque beauty, is a particular delight and she went on to win a BAFTA award for it (shared for the actress' famously unruffled turn in that Luis Bunuel masterpiece THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE ).
A subplot, then, depicts a comparable folly to the protagonist's where the elderly and meek-looking cashier in Bouquet's firm embezzles funds to sustain his unlikely romance with a much younger woman (not that the perennially exhausted hero bore the looks of a Casanova himself but, at least, his sluttish mistress is clearly shown to be into sado-masochism). Ultimately, such ironic yet provocative (indeed quasi-surrealist) psychological nuances, are what make Chabrol's work so intriguing and quietly rewarding more so, in fact, than perhaps any other of the "Nouvelle Vague" film-makers.
The characterization and build up to the climax is what convinced me to be a part of this enthralling movie. Adapting to the role was a bit challenging. But never once I felt hard as the director was extremely specific in what he wants from me. It pushed me to give my best, which is why I consider this as my career best performance.
A man murders his best friend's wife. Guilt leads him to confess to the
crime to both his friend and his wife. They in turn forgive him his act
of homicide, betrayal and infidelity. This unconditional forgiveness
and lack of reproach drives him to despair.
Despite the early scenes suggesting that this could be a thriller, as is the way with Claude Chabrol's other films, the narrative of Juste Avant la Nuit goes off in an entirely different direction. It uses it's opening crime not as a springboard to a suspenseful story but as a way of examining the human condition. The murder almost becomes irrelevant as we progress through the film and witness the central character become more and more depressed as a result of the love and understanding he is shown by the people who should ordinarily hate him for the ultimate betrayal he has shown them. Like other Chabrol films, this one depicts a melancholic and tragic villain. The audience are asked again to empathize with the criminal and try to understand his angst. It's morally complex and doesn't give out any answers at all. If you're looking for a traditional crime thriller this is not it. How much you enjoy this depends on how interesting you find it's central questions. I'm on the fence.
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