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The wife of the headmaster of a school for boys tires of his violent treatment of her, along with his philandering, and teams up with his mistress to kill him. When the body goes missing, the two mismatched women must uncover what happened to the body before it's discovered what they've done.
For more about Diabolique and the Diabolique Blu-ray release, see Diabolique Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on April 22, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Simone Signoret, Véra Clouzot, Paul Meurisse, Charles Vanel, Michel Serrault, Jean Lefebvre
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
» See full cast & crew
Diabolique Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, April 22, 2011
Henri-Georges Clouzot's "Les diaboliques" a.k.a "Diabolique" (1955) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. The supplemental features on the disc include the film's original theatrical trailer; new video introduction by film preservationist and historian Serge Bromberg; selected-scene commentary by French-film scholar Kelley Conway; and video interview with novelist and film critic Kim Newman. The disc also arrives with an illustrated booklet containing a new essay by film critic Terrence Rafferty. In French, with optional English subtitles for the main feature. Region-A "locked".
At the end of Henri-Georges Clouzot's legendary thriller, Les diaboliques, there is a short request: "Don't be diabolical. Don't spoil the film for your friends by telling them what happens. Thanks on their behalf." I am going to honor the request and try to be as vague as possible in my review of the film.
Les diaboliques opens up in a boys' boarding school. The place is run by a sadistic headmaster, Michel Delassalle (Paul Meurisse, Army of Shadows), but is owned by his wife Christina (Vera Clouzot, The Wages of Fear). The headmaster is having an affair with one of the teachers, Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret, Room at the Top, Ship of Fools), but no one knows about it.
The headmaster takes great pleasure in making everyone's life miserable. The boys, the teachers and even the staff hate him with a passion but keep quiet. Eventually, Christina and Nicole decide that they have had enough and decide to kill him. Far away from the school, they drug and drown him in the bathtub of a rundown hotel. Then they dump his body in the school's pool, hoping to make it look like there was an accident.
A couple of days later the pool is drained, but the body of the headmaster isn't found. Christina and Nicole immediately panic because they clearly remember killing the headmaster, transporting his body back to the school and dumping it in the pool.
So where is the body?
No one knows - no one but detective Fichet (Charles Vanel, Three Brothers), who enters the story when Christina goes to the local morgue to identify a body, which she hopes and prays is that of the headmaster. But it isn't, and she becomes paranoid. Detective Fichet follows her back to the school where everyone is already aware that the headmaster has gone missing.
This is as much as I am willing to tell you about Les diaboliques. If you want to find how the film ends, you will just have to see it in its entirety.
In 1996, Jeremiah S. Chechik did a loose remake of Les diaboliques, which I thought was quite good but clearly not as atmospheric as the original film. In this semi-remake, starring Chazz Palminteri, Isabelle Adjani, and Sharon Stone, there are a number of new twists that effectively eliminate the dark overtones that make the original film so fascinating to behold. You could easily guess how the film would end long before the final credits roll. In the original film, things are quite different.
Director Clouzot was a true master of misdirection – and there is nothing random in Les diaboliques; the school, the boys and their games, detective Fichet's seemingly random questions, everything has a meaning and purpose, but you will realize that much later on. After you see Les diaboliques, see it again and this time around pay attention to the small details. I guarantee you will come to appreciate the film even more, and eventually perhaps even compare it to some of Alfred Hitchcock's best films.
The acting is top-notch. Meurisse plays the sadistic headmaster to perfection, while Clouzot really does look possessed towards the end of the film. Signoret's character transformation is also terrific. Also, Vanel's character supposedly inspired Peter Falk's Columbo.
Diabolique Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Henri-Georges Clouzot's Les diaboliques arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
Criterion's high-definition transfer is very good. Detail and clarity are practically identical to those of the Arrow Films transfer; color reproduction is also quite similar. However, Criterion have performed various contrast adjustments and noise corrections. As a result, certain scenes look smoother, with grays rather than blacks being slightly more prominent. Film grain also appears slightly better resolved, though some of it is not as prominent as it appears on the Arrow Films release (the noise corrections mentioned above are most obvious during these scenes). Criterion have also performed various stabilization corrections. The same damage marks and cuts that occasionally pop up here and there on the Arrow Films release are also present on the Criterion release. Lastly, there are no serious stability issues to report in this review. All in all, in motion Criterion's transfer looks slightly softer but tighter and definitely not as contrasty as the Arrow Films transfer. Both, however, are very good. (Note: This is a Region-A "locked" Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
Diabolique Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There is only one audio track on this Blu-ray disc: French LPCM 1.0. For the record, Criterion have provided optional English subtitles for the main feature.
The French LPCM 1.0 track is solid. The dialog is crisp, clean, stable, and very easy to follow. As it is the case with the French LPCM 1.0 track from the Arrow Films release, its dynamic amplitude is rather limited, but it has very pleasing depth and fluidity. The English translation is very good.
Diabolique Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Diabolique Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
As expected, Criterion's Blu-ray release of Henri-Georges Clouzot's legendary Les diaboliques is an excellent addition to their already very impressive Blu-ray catalog. At this point I only hope that sooner rather than later we would also get the French director's wonderful Le corbeau and Quai des Orfèvres on Blu-ray. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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Diabolique Blu-ray, News and Updates
• New Three Reasons Trailer for 1955 Diabolique - April 12, 2011
In anticipation for the May 17th release of the 1955 French film Diabolique on Blu-ray Disc, The Criterion Group has released a new trailer and added a few new special features. From Director/Screenwriter Henri-Georges Clouzot, Diabolique reveals a secret plot ...
• Criterion Blu-ray in May: Bergman, Breillat, Chaplin, Clouzot, De... - February 14, 2011
The Criterion Collection has announced a record seven titles for Blu-ray release in May. On May 3, it will release Fat Girl (À ma soeur; Catherine Breillat, 2001) and Smiles of a Summer Night (Sommarnattens leende; Ingmar Bergman, 1955). A week later, it will release ...
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