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If I had to guess what is one of the most common subjects people choose to make movies about, it's murder. It's not as common as love, purpose, change, and other similar topics about life, but murder is one that comes up regularly. There's a fascination in watching people die on film, whether it be teenagers getting killed by monsters, soldiers dying in the heat of battle, or revenge killing. Some films choose to detail the process of killing an individual, showing all the complications that can occur from killing the person and what happens to the killer afterwards. This is something that goes back much further than Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment and is the basis of films like Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train.
Diabolique, or Les Diaboliques as it was originally titled, is a French psychological thriller from 1955, and shows what happens when two women plot a murder. Christina (Véra Clouzot) runs a boarding school with her awful husband Michel (Paul Meurisse). Christina and Nicole (Simone Signoret), Michel's mistress and a teacher at the school, decide to rid themselves of the abusive jerk by plotting a murder. They prey upon Michel's chauvinism and manage to concoct what they believe is a perfect murder, one where the two of them will have an alibi and that will most likely rule his death as an accident. Of course, something goes wrong.
Diabolique was definitely a film of its time and resembles many similar films of the era. It's very much Hitchcockian in its use of shadows, crime, and duality to create a story, but is still very much a French film. The main trio do represent a lot of what was going on in the changing attitudes of the time. Christina, being raised in a convent, is the more traditional woman, one who wears her hair in braids and is always thinking about what her actions will do to her soul. Michel is the pompous chauvinist who thinks his word is law and tries to control women. Nicole is a more modern woman, one who chooses to take charge and do things that go against the system.
The issue that arises, like many films about this subject, is that the characters all become very similar in the end, and no one person can really be better than the others (something that you might find debatable once you see the movie). Even though you can weigh the characters on some morality spectrum, they all pretty much do the same terrible things to each other. It's fitting since calculated murder itself is something that can never really be justified. Films like this usually break down the haughty nature of the characters plotting the killing. They think they can plan for every occurance, but it never truly works out the way they plan, and for that, they suffer.
Diabolique is a very tense movie. Once Christina and Nicole's plan goes awry, suddenly everything changes. Now you have to watch and see where the characters will screw up and who will screw up. Every person around them also becomes suspicious. Is the groundskeeper up to something? Is the detective who promised to find Michel really trustworthy? Can Christina and Nicole even rely on each other? The film explores many questions, creating a film filled with paranoia and suspicion. This builds to a climax in the last ten minutes of the film, when Christina finds herself all alone in the dark boarding school, creating one of the best thriller scenes in any movie.
Diabolique is a dark film that explores the process of murder and the complications that arise when one tries to elude justice. It's a film that leaves you guessing, but has very satisfying payoff. It's definitely a film one should watch if they're into noir and psychological thrillers, but wants to see how it can be done outside of America. At the same time, it's an interesting film to watch due to the themes of abuse, revenge, and calculation.
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