Monday, December 31, 2012

La femme infidèle. (1969) Claude Chabrol

Reconciling Infidelity for A&F Nominations.

"I love you," says the disconsolate husband, softly.

"I love you," whispers the unfaithful wife. She is clearly telling him the truth.

"I love you like mad," he utters, again under his breath, holding to his marital bond like an armistice.

If La femme infidèle is about the love between a husband and wife, it's also about the mad bonds that tie them together, and the lengths the two might go to preserve them.

The title says it all, for this is really a story about three people (four, if you count their little boy, and with the uneasy ramifications that will play out here, the fate of the little boy is certainly worth consideration). This is a love triangle tale. It is as messed up as Anthony and Cleopatra -- an ages-old theme, to be certain -- but it is relayed to the eye through the sheer power of autuer cinema, Chabrol and cinematographer Jean Rabier formally giving new light to a timeless idea.

The husband, Charles (Michel Bouquet), suspects his wife, Helene (the beautiful Stéphane Audran) of spending her time in other places in the city, instead of getting her nails done or going every other day to the cinema. He hires a detective and uncovers her lover's name. Husband then proceeds to meet this fellow, and at this half way point all the characters' lives unravel while the cinematic way in which it is told springs the story to life.

The camera movement is phenomenal, at one point swooping from inside a parked car, following the husband around the corner and back into the car in one take -- in other moments slightly inebriated, reflecting the sudden wooziness in a central character's state, or with masterful tracking as we follow Charles dragging something as large as a human, wrapped in cloth, down a Parisian sidewalk. The quiet, felt tension relayed by Bouquet as the husband is actually mirrored in the movement of the lens.

Rabier's craftmanship showcases, quite clearly, a very different and unique time in cinema history -- scenes steal the show on their own, like glimpes of the inside of the Bates Hotel in Psycho, or the people in the other apartment in Rear Window. Yes, it's Hitchcock that foremost comes to mind, where the psychology of the characters is also relayed in the way we're allowed to see it. In the very movement of the camera itself -- a sense of disorientation likewise later in the wife -- we not only see, but feel, the loss of her freedom, her desire, and her need for understanding reflected in tilts, pans, zooms, and perfectly paced edits.

Chabrol even has a sense of humor, like the signature of Hitch appearing in his own film. Only here, in a nerve-wrangling scene in which husband is driving very fast down an all-too-crowded boulevard, we faintly catch a theater in the background as it passes by. What was playing in the cinema in France that day? Les Biches, Chabrol's film from 1968.

This is an amazing, masterful film in which all of the pieces come together: a fine script, decent deadpan (read: French) acting, highly artistic and expressionist cinematography, and edits that know when to cut and when to refrain and let us see more.

After watching La femme infidèle, I find myself wondering: Claude Chabrol, where have you been all my life?

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