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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 Les diaboliques and the Les diaboliques Blu-ray release, see Les diaboliques 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
Les diaboliques 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 British distributors Arrow Films. The supplemental features on the disc include the film's original theatrical trailer; audio commentary by Susan Hayward; and video introduction to the film by French cinema scholar, critic and author Ginette Vincendeau. In French, with optional English subtitles for the main feature. Region-Free.
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.
Les diaboliques 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 British distributors Arrow Films.
The high-definition transfer Arrow Films have used for their Blu-ray release of Les diaboliques is very good. First, I didn't see any traces of excessive noise reduction. Though not always consistent and well resolved - obviously due to various source limitations - fine film grain is present throughout the entire film. Some of it is mixed with light noise, but having compared Arrow's transfer to Criterion's transfer (we will have a review of the Criterion Blu-ray release of Les diaboliques shortly), occasionally I actually tend to prefer the rawer look of the Arrow transfer. Clarity is also very pleasing -- even the the darker scenes look very good. Contrast levels and color reproduction are also satisfying, and I personally prefer the deeper and richer blacks and grays of the Arrow transfer. In motion, the Criterion transfer looks slightly tighter. For example, I noticed a few small warps on the Arrow transfer (early into the film), which Criterion have addressed (generally speaking, Criterion have done various minor stabilization adjustments on their transfer). However, there are no serious stability issues with the Arrow transfer to report in this review. Lastly, some inherited damage marks are present - they are also present on the Criterion transfer - but the overall quality of the presentation is indeed very good. All in all, this is a solid transfer that should please fans of the film. (Note: This is a a Region-Free Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you will be able to play it on your PS3 or SA regardless of your geographical location. For the record, there is no problematic PAL or 1080/50i content preceding the disc's main menu).
Les diaboliques Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There is only one audio track on this Blu-ray disc: French LPCM 1.0. For the record, Arrow Films have provided optional English subtitles for the main feature.
I don't have any major reservations with the French LPCM 1.0 track. Obviously, its dynamic amplitude is rather limited, but the dialog is crisp, clean, stable, and exceptionally easy to follow. I also did not detect any disturbing pops, cracks, hissings, or audio dropouts to report in this review. The English translation is very good.
Les diaboliques Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Les diaboliques Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
British distributors Arrow Films' presentation of Henri-Georges Clouzot's legendary Les diaboliques is very good. In fact, I tend to prefer the look of their transfer over the one Criterion have used for their Blu-ray release. At the end of day, however, both releases look very, very good. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Les diaboliques Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Bicycle Thieves, Les Diaboliques Announced on Blu-ray - February 10, 2011
In March, Arrow Films will launch its new Arrow Academy label, celebrating the best in world cinema. The first title in the range will be the acclaimed Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di biciclette, also known as The Bicycle Thief; Vittorio De Sica, 1948), slated for Blu-ray ...
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