L'Enfer Review

Paul (François Cluzet) has finally managed to buy the hotel that he has always dreamed of owning but he's also taken out an awful lot of loans to cover the costs of renovating it. Even if all goes well, it will take a long time before he manages to get out of debt. Thankfully, he's happily married to one of the prettiest women of the Périgord, Nelly (Emmanuelle Béart), who helps him to run the hotel. But as years go by, Paul is starting to find himself to be an inadequate husband for Nelly - and Nelly seems to be all too eager to please the hotel's male clientele... Is she being unfaithful to him or is he just over-stressed with the mountain of work that is constantly tumbling on top of him? With the financial situation getting more and more precarious by the month and fuelled by a chronic jealousy, Paul finds his life becoming a living hell...

The first director of the Nouvelle Vague to direct a feature-length film, Chabrol has been alongside Eric Rohmer the most prolific. Having now directed more than 50 films, he also had his very own Hitchcock Presents-style series dubbed Sueurs froides (Cold Sweat - no link with James Brown though!) which showcased other directors imitating his strange mix of crime, satire and humour. Murder, marital infidelity and jealousy have always been an intrinsic part of Chabrol's vision and L'Enfer is no exception. The original screenplay was a concoction of Henri-Georges Clouzot (director and writer of The Wages of Fear and Les Diaboliques) who also happened to be Chabrol's Bridge partner... Clouzot had begun filming it but the project had been a complete disaster (lead star winding up in hospital, Clouzot having a heart-attack etc). Chabrol however felt that the script was too good to disappear without a trace and with some minor alterations to the mise en scène, he set out to film it.
Despite the majority of the script being Clouzot's work, Chabrol does make the film very much his own stylistically - especially in the direction and the cinematography. The casting of Béart and Cluzet in the leads was quite a coup de maître - Béart's acting is so sensual that you can fully comprehend Cluzet's confusion and despair... The secondary parts are also well cast - Marc Lavoine (a washed out 80s pop-idol) works particularly well as the sexy customer who sparks Cluzet's paranoia.

As Sartre wrote, "l'enfer c'est les autres" (Hell is having to deal with the others) and Paul demonstrates this admirably - we get to share Paul's hell first hand, seeing everything solely through his eyes, which ends up causing a destabilising blur in the barriers between his imagination and reality. As often with Chabrol though, the viewer may feel that plot development takes second place to the characters but if you're ready to accept that, the film is a fascinating look at the effects and causes of chronic jealousy.

The DVD:

The image:As usual with MK2, we get a very good anamorphic transfer from a clean print. There are some occurrences of minor scratches and specks but nothing really distracting. The colours are slightly less vibrant than I thought they should have been but I imagine that was a stylistic choice from Chabrol. All in all another good transfer from MK2.

The sound:We get the original 2.0 mix which makes a moderate use of stereo effects - the film is mostly dialogue based and the voices are clear and high enough in the mix...

The menus / the subtitles:Standard MK2 menus - basic but clear and functional... We don't get an English language menu but it's pretty simple to guess what the French means... On the other hand, the main feature is subtitled in English - the subtitles are readable and very accurate with no grammar mistakes that I noticed...

The extras:None of the extras are subtitled in English
A brief introduction to the film from Joël Magny (3 mins)This introduction contains some minor spoilers and is best avoided before watching the film. It gives us some basic background knowledge about the script, the cast and the director - it would have been better maybe as a longer wrap up after the film but still worthwhile watching...

Chabrol talks about Clouzot (12 mins - fullscreen)Chabrol discusses his use of the script and the various versions that existed as well as some behind the scenes details about Clouzot's original filming.

Chabrol comments 3 scenes (38 mins - anamorphic 4/3 and 1.66)Chabrol selected three major scenes from the film and discusses them in depth - we get footage of Chabrol commenting in the studio mixed in with the footage he's watching. He's not restrained by the pressures of talking to the speed of the footage so this leaves him enough time to elaborate about many aspects of the scene and it's relation to the rest of the story. Chabrol is quite good at analysing his own work and this extra is just as effective as a feature length commentary and probably more watchable.

Trailers for present and future MK2 releases (4/3)The rest of the DVD seems to have been filled to the brim with as many trailers as MK2 could fit in - pretty much every single film they've released sees its trailer included here...

Conclusions:Another fine addition to MK2's catalogue and have so far released most of Chabrol's work to which they own the rights... As Chabrol's reknown in the UK is not great enough to see all his films released here, it is good to see that MK2 have in part at least made this DVD suitable for English speakers.

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