Sunday, February 22, 2009

L'Enfer (1994)

We meet the happy couple, Nelly (Emmanuelle Béart) and Paul (François Cluzet), running a bustling hotel in rustic surroundings. The innocence before the stormThey have a young son and appear happy. When Paul starts suspecting his nubile wife of engaging in sexual indiscretion, their idyllic life starts crumbling. Nelly denies a tryst, but Paul grows more and more paranoid. Soon, he's following her into town to make sure she's indeed visiting her mother and not meeting up with a suitor. Paul starts drinking heavily and his paranoid delusions are so vivid, he believes them and is fueled by his intense jealousy. He visualizes Nelly engaging in sex with any hotel employee she interacts with. He becomes violent. Their successful hotel begins to suffer as employees are accused. Patrons are aghast at his erratic and violent behavior. Nelly reasons with him, hoping that by reassuring him of her devotion and love, this will pass. In time, she's living like a prisoner, no longer venturing into town in hopes of lessening his ire. But, soon, the situation escalates. The surreal ending scene is a nail biter. A few details are hard to swallow but in the end, you are demoralized with ideas about what Nelly should have done (gotten far away from Paul) and not done (agreed to stay with him one more night).

Director Chabrol brilliantly moves the movie through Paul's descent into madness. Nelly's frustration, fear and loss for how to help her husband are believable. She's somewhat in denial, despite Paul's escalating violence. Yet, because she so badly wants things back the way they were, it's conceivable she'd stay, even when to the viewer, her life is clearly in danger. The most disturbing scenes occur in dark, confined spaces; Chabrol places us in these uncomfortable spaces with the couple, on the brink of implosion. The hotel is a terrific setting for tension--the many rooms, the grounds with so much happening and all the folks on holiday, with their own stories, opinions and judgements on observing the breakdown of a marriage.

Director: Claude Chabrol

Country: France

Genre: Drama

Run time: 100 minutes

Scale: 3.5

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