Thursday, 9 October 2008


LA FEMME INFIDELE is one of Claude Chabrol's greatest films and one of his most subtle explorations of human behaviour. A successful business man lives happily with his wife and son in a beautiful house in the suburbs of Paris. The couple seem very much in love and the husband (brilliantly played by Michel Bouquet) is drifting contentedly into middle-age. Slowly he begins to feel that his wife may be unfaithful. A hired private detective confirms his worst fears. The husband visits the lover (nicely characterised by Maurice Ronet) and tells him that he and his wife have an open relationship but when he sees one of his ammiversary presents to his wife he suddenly kills the lover. A police investigation leads the police to the couple. The strength of the film is in the very subtle way Chabrol shows us everything quite impassively and allows us to interpret what we see. Is the story the husband tells the lover true ? We never know for sure. The murder seems more motivated by the discovery of the anniversary present which indicates an emotional involvement than by the wife's physical infidelity, but we never know for sure. The husband seems content that life will go on as before (although again the subtle symbolism of the jigsaw with a missing piece should not be ignored). The wife's discovery of the evidence against her husband and her destruction of it has been taken by some to indicate that when the police return at the end of the film that they have come to arrest her but these reviewers miss the other evidence of his involvement which is the private detective. Do they come for the husband or the wife. Chabrol doesn't tell us and ultimately it makes no difference to the power of the film which is, above all, a love story. Chabrol (along with Truffaut) has always been one of my favourite directors of the French New Wave and it shows all his strengths and none of his weaknesses. I've used the word subtle several times in this piece and make no apologies for using it again to describe the way the spirit of Hitchcock hovers over this film, especially in the scenes involving the murder and disposal of the corpse. But Chabrol doesn't just ape Hitchcock as, say, Brian De Palma does, and every foot of the movie is unmistakeably Chabrol who has learned from the master rather than being content to simply copy him. I first saw this film nearly forty years ago and it has lost none of its power...I had forgotten, however, just how beautiful and a great actress Stephane Audran is. Rating *****

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