Jalousie, cont’d.

Just to pinch things off I watched L’enfer, Claude Chabrol’s 1994 production of the script that turned Henri-Georges Clouzot inside-out. God knows it’s faithful enough to Clouzot, with entire scenes mirroring the re-creations in Serge Bromberg’s documentary, but with a much less emotional delivery. Oh, it gets into the husband’s fantasies about his wife alright, but Chabrol being Chabrol, these are delivered with ice and distance; something’s held back even during a montage in which the husband plunges into full-blown madness. In the movie’s telegraphic style, seasons skip by in a single cut and the story leapfrogs years at a time in a minute or two; a handful of early snapshot views of François Cluzet and Emmanuelle Béart carry us from their courtship through their wedding day and up to the time of their son’s first steps in the first 10 minutes alone.

If Chabrol didn’t create a work with the fever of a Taxi Driver, his standing back gets at something important about these emotional breaks: that they’re essentially irrational no matter how “explainable” they are by abandonment issues or other deep-seated factors. Cluzet suffers his crisis merely because, early on, he happens to see Béart expressing warmth towards another man. Once that seed is planted in his head, everything else he sees is inevitably skewed to fit the same template, until he can’t even watch home movies without mentally editing in visions of what he thinks the camera just missed.

My one real gripe about L’enfer has to do with its presentation of Béart. Niagara and There’s Something About Mary made the bodies of Marilyn Monroe and Cameron Diaz almost characters unto themselves, and it was the right thing to do because both stories hinged on what their sex appeal wrought in the men around them. So you look at the body—you look at it. Chabrol doesn’t look so much as he checks off a box on his clipboard: a breeze tickles the end of Béart’s skirt, and at bedtime we get a view of her skimpy but sensible underwear. I’ve felt thwarted by Chabrol’s tastefulness before, but never has his high reserve seemed self-defeatingly prudish.

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