Henri-Georges Clouzot – best remembered for his two electrifying thrillers The Wages of Fear and Les Diaboliques – had written the screenplay for L’Enfer and began its shooting in 1964, but had to leave it unfinished on account of production woes. Three decades later Claude Chabrol – one of the most caustic and brilliant examiners of middle-class artifice, hypocrisy and relationships – resurrected this unfinished project and adapted Clouzot’s script into a deliriously dark, delicious and demented examination of a marriage that turns not just toxic, but diabolical too, on account of extreme jealousy, unhealthy obsessions, crippling paranoia and pathological insanity. The film began in a mood of sunny cheerfulness, but progressively yet decidedly transformed into a hellish atmosphere – buoyed by elements that were alternatively saucy, parodic, unsettling and disorienting – which made it both a chilling depiction of madness and a scathing commentary on the conformist images of bourgeois domesticity. The jaunty opening sequences breezily capture the peppy romance and bucolic marriage of Paul (François Cluzet), a boutique hotelier in a provincial town, and Nelly (Emmanuelle Béart) who he’s fallen head over heels for. Things, however, start spiralling downwards when Paul initially suspects his sultry and attractive wife is having an extra-marital affair with a virile young worker, and starts surreptitiously stalking her. Before long, the intensely cuckolded and insecure man starts imagining that she’s sleeping around with every man and obsessing about her supposedly insatiable desires. There’s no going back from here, as he – alternating between self-pity, delusion and violence – propels their marriage into a raging inferno and a chilling climax. Interestingly, Nelly’s supposed infidelity is never clarified, while the nightmarish finale left things unsettlingly ambiguous in this work of surprising ferocity.
Director: Claude Chabrol
Genre: Thriller/Black Comedy/Marital Thriller/Romantic Thriller