Before I get into this month’s blindspot selection, I feel the need to take pause and say thanks.
As you kind folks may or may not remember, for this year’s blind spot selections I turned the responsibility of culling the watchlist over to my readers. I pointed people towards my Letterboxd page and asked “What jumps out?”. The dozen films that I ran with were the ones that were mentioned most often. The reason I take pause and say thanks, is because y’all have amazing taste!
The films you chose have moved me, they have delighted me, they have been joyously varied and they have stuck with me in ways I didn’t expect. While the twelve I chose for myself in 2012 were in large part wonderful, there were a few that felt more like bitter vegetables than a juicy steak. This year, it’s been steak for dinner every month.
But speaking of Letterboxd, this month’s blindspot selection comes with a warning at the top of its Letterboxd page. It says “See it, be amazed at it, but…be quiet about it!” Now that I’ve seen the film, that makes complete sense, and I whole-heartedly agree. So if you’ve never seen LES DIABOLIQUES, turn back now.
The story has the audience off-kilter from the opening tip. It is the story of a headmaster at a French boarding school, M. Delassalle (Paul Meurisse). That Delassalle is married with a mistress on the side is not what leaves us off-kilter (he’s French after all, amiright?). No, what makes the situation strange is that the wife and the mistress get along – heck, they’re downright friendly! Seems as though while the headmaster is dreamy, he’s also an abusive dick. Thus his wife, Christina (Véra Clouzot), and his fling, Nicole (Simone Signoret), wonder how they might teach him a lesson. As one might, they decide the best course of action is to kill him – makes sense.
However, there’s an unexpected turn of the screw after they have drowned their beloved and ditched he body in the boarding school swimming pool; eventually the pool is drained, and there’s no body to be found.
Think it’s nerve-wracking getting away with murder? Try doing it when you’ve lost track of a key piece of evidence!
The character dynamics that begin this film drew me in close and kept me there.
The most obvious detail is the fact that when we first meet Nicole, she is wearing dark sunglasses while she moves through the classrooms, corridors and cafeteria of the boarding school. The shorthand it employs is amazing, after all there are only so many things that could cause one to wear sunglasses inside. If there was ever a doubt, watching Nicole and Delassalle interact makes it abundantly clear.
One doesn’t often think of sunglasses as shorthand for abuse victim, but in LES DIABOLIQUES the shorthand is wickedly clear.
It’s amazing that his mistreatment of his mistress is what ultimately seems to spur Christina…so much so that one wonders how this story might have gone if they’d been a loving pair. However, knowing that his assholery knows no bounds, Christina becomes susceptible. Worse yet, Christina grows patient. A dick like Delassalle isn’t going to learn anything by nails raked down his back. No, he needs to suffer a deep wound, and making sure the wound cuts deep enough takes time.
Hearing Christina say that she is pursuing a divorce raises Delassalle’s attention and ours. It’s not that she wants out that underlines her determination, it’s that she’s prepared to get out and never marry again. You have to believe one’s point would be made if they said “If I’m never with anybody ever again, it’ll be enough because I also won’t be with you.”
And yet – despite all of that anger, there’s still a moment’s hesitation before Christina poison’s him. That’s love for ya.
Rumour has it that director Henri-Georges Clouzot grabbed this script out from under Alfred Hitchcock, and even if that’s not true, it’s certainly plausible. The story comes with the tension of films like SHADOW OF A DOUBT, ROPE, and REAR WINDOW…but also with the twisted human nature of PSYCHO, VERTIGO, and NOTORIOUS. In other words, this might be the best Hitchcock film that Hitch never made.
Seriously folks, I audibly let out an “Oh shit!” on more than one occasion.
It’s amazing to see how well a mindfuck can hold up nearly sixty years on. Heck, in many ways, I think that a lot of these classic storytellers could teach modern filmmakers a thing or two, since so many so-called “thrillers” barely have the legs to last until their blu-ray release.
Few moments in film history can compare to the quick slip into paranoia that Christina takes as the body goes missing, but encounters with Delassalle continue. It’s not just the missing body – though that does do a great job of screwing with her – it’s the way evidence points towards him still walking the earth. Perhaps what’s worst of all is the encounter with the student who claims that Delassalle is punishing him for breaking a window on he schoolhouse. When the women (who have now been joined by a steadfast detective) suggest the student is mistaken, he defiantly responds that he isn’t crazy and knows full-well what the headmaster looks like.
Thinking you’re going nuts is one thing; having a child confirm it is cold shit.
I’m deliberately avoiding discussing the end, even though if you’ve ead this far, you probably know it. All I will say is that I never expected this film to shock me as much as it did, but seeing what Christina saw damned near had me suffering the same fate. Then of course, I had to smile at the suggestion that the patience we learned about earlier was still in play.
Yes folks, y’all are six-for-six. What’s more, this title I’ve selected for June has to be one of my favorite blindspot experiences yet. I have been moved and enlightened every four weeks as his series has gone on, but never have I been as stunned as I was on Sunday night.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to take a shower. I’m never taking a bath ever again…
I post Blind Spot entries on the final Tuesday of every month. If you are participating, drop me an email (ryanatthematineedotca) when your post is up and I’ll make sure to link to your entry.
Here’s the round-up for June…
Will Kouf watched FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH
Courtney Small watched NOTORIOUS
Andy Hart watched BILLY ELLIOT
Steve Flores watched A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE
Dan Heaton watched BATTLE ROYALE
SDG watched THE BREAKFAST CLUB
Sean Kelly watched THE WARRIORS
It’s snowing in June! Bob Turnbull watched both FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE and LA DOLCE VITA
Josh watched THIS IS ENGLAND