Horror Half-Week, Day 2: Diabolique (1955)

Spoooooky Halloween, movie buffs, and welcome to Day 2 of TMP’s annual haunted celebration: Horror Half-Week! Yesterday, we took a look at a ’70s ghost-thriller, Don’t Look Now. Today, we hop back a few decades — and across the pond — for a French horror-thriller. On to the review!

Diabolique Criterion cover
(Image via The Criterion Collection)

Michel Delassalle (Paul Meurisse) runs a boarding school in France, which is owned by his wife, Christina (Vera Clouzot). Christina is in poor health, so Michel has struck up a relationship with Nicole (Simone Signoret), a teacher at the school.

While some would assume Christina and Nicole to be catty romantic rivals, they’re actually quite close, bonding over their mutual hatred of the man they share. Michel is abusive and treats just about everyone at the school poorly, including the children.

Christina seems resigned to her situation, but Nicole is fed up and ready for a change. She hatches a plan for her and Christina to get rid of Michel… permanently.

Diabolique (also released as Les Diaboliques) was directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot. It was written by Clouzot and Jérôme Géronimi from the novel Celle qui n’était plus by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac.

By the film’s ten-minute mark, I already despised Michel and was hoping for a “Two Black Cadillacs” revenge tale. Paul Meurisse’s work as Michel is commendable — I have to love a performance so grimy that it makes me feel an instant, intense hatred for the character.

But as much as I enjoyed Meurisse, this is not his film. It belongs to Simone Signoret and Vera Clouzot, who give fantastic performances as two women who are near-opposites. As the women make their plan, Nicole is self-assured and determined, while Christina is sure something will derail it. Their dynamic is great to watch — very engaging.

Diabolique movie still
(Image via Letterboxd)

Diabolique is full of tension. That scene of Christina sneaking out to meet Nicole and put their plan in action… the wait for Michel to arrive in Niort…

Every bit of this film is well-constructed, with high anxiety. The way the story builds is brilliant. Nicole’s three-day plan could have been a very compelling film on its own, but the drama doesn’t end in Niort. Things only get more complicated after the women carry out their plan and return to the school.

There are hints of horror throughout, too, which make the film even more gripping and add to its tense, eerie atmosphere.

Diabolique was on my to-be-watched list for literal years — I’d heard so many great things about it, and it did not disappoint! I liked it so much that I purchased it from Criterion soon after watching. Highly recommended!

 

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