La Femme infidèle Review
This disc is also available as part of The Claude Chabrol Collection alongside Les Biches, Que la bête meure, Le Boucher, Juste avant la nuit, Les Noces rouges, Nada and Madame Bovary.
La Femme infidèle opens with a soft focus family portrait, one which it will slowly proceed to demolish over the next 90 or so minutes. This portrait seems comfortable, middle class, complacent even, with its young blond-haired son and loving parents, yet this isn’t quite the full picture. The title, of course, is a major clue and so it is that writer-director Claude Chabrol begins to plant the seeds of doubt in our minds and prompts us to second guess everyone’s actions.
Much like his previous venture Les Biches, this is a film which toys with the idea of being of a thriller, but isn’t quite. It has a formal elegance and all-round excellent performances, both of which suggest your average middle class family drama. On the surface this is exactly what we’re getting, but then Chabrol never quite allows us to see things in such a way. Pierre Jansen’s discordant score in particular is in place to puncture any possible idyll. Indeed, time and again little correctives come our way as means of shifting us away from this viewpoint that everything is okay, so much so that by the time Michel Bouquet’s husband has questioned wife Stéphane Audran as to whether she loves him or not and then hires a private detective to tail her, we’re stuck with such an ambivalence that La Femme infidèle could potentially go either way. Chabrol keeps giving us potential subtexts and clues thereby building what is perhaps no more than a minor intrigue – is Audran having an affair? – into something really quite major.
Such a demonstration of directorial command needs to be followed up, and so it is that Chabrol’s manipulations take us to some unexpected places. There’s a playfulness which creeps in and out – including a cheeky little nod to Les Biches - a mordant wit and a Hitchcockian edge which gains momentum as the minutes tick away. Particularly noteworthy is the extended homage to Psycho, a wonderful piece of cinema over a number of scenes which, remarkably, fits right in with proceedings. Indeed, in unsettling us so early on Chabrol has effectively provided himself with a free rein as to where he may take us. And by the time we reach the final image – a neat subversion of the very first via another Hitchcockian nod, this time to Vertigo - it’s not quite in the manner which we may have expected. Of course, spoilers have prevented me from divulging too much, so let’s just say that the end result is quintessentially Chabrolian.
Despite being one of its director’s finest efforts, this Region 0 release of La Femme infidèle from Arrow is a major disappointment. There are no extras to speak of, but even worse is the presentation. Though anamorphically enhanced, the image comes squashed to a ratio of 2:1 as opposed to being in its original 1.85:1. Furthermore, though of course this is its major flaw, the quality of the print isn’t particularly impressive, seeming washed out and old. On top of this we also get prominent edge enhancement and artefacting resulting in a film which is, in all honesty, only barely watchable. Thankfully, the soundtrack fares better – we get the original French mono – albeit without ever really impressing. It’s passable certainly, and we do get English subtitles of the optional variety, but really this is a film which deserves much better.