In Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques, an emotionally racked wife and her husband’s mistress dump the body of their oppressor into a swimming pool. Days later when it is emptied, the body is nowhere to be found. Watching the masterpiece this weekend for the first time, the simplicity of the plot was a revelation, particularly given the refined tension and wrought atmosphere it emits. Les Diaboliques proves to today’s debutants that the secret to a classic comes not from convolution, but the simplicity of a great idea.
There are two recent trailers which stand out as having no discernible plot. Chris Hemsworth’s norse God Thor, aside from having locks worthy of a John Frieda spot, appears to be an angry body builder exiled by other angry men, into the arms of none other than Natalie Portman. A dream to many, but to Thor this has caused some distress. It may be something to do with a stolen hammer, but the shiny sets and special effects were quite distracting. Meanwhile, another tanned blonde runs into trouble in The Green Lantern. When a mystical ring is handed over to a ‘chosen one’, I wondered whether I was actually watching a previously unseen trailer for The Hobbit. As the trailer reaches its crescendo (a constipated looking Ryan Reynolds hovering in front of the sun) I realized I had absolutely no idea what The Green Lantern was all about.
X-Men: First Class, another recent Marvel release, uses three or four long winded narrative strands to tell a straight forward story. But Marvel aren’t the only party guilty of contrived plots. From Limitless to Unknown, Inception set the wheels in motion for other copycat mind-benders. The concept of travelling in dreams, or pills that allow superhuman abilities, are a far cry from Clouzot’s simple conception of a missing body. Surely though, nothing can match the dire Priest 3D. Despite achieving the honorable status of first cyberpunk-vampire film, it was a bewildering genre-hopping mess.
Clouzot’s stripped down plot allows the image and sound to take over, and the suspense at times is truly unbearable. The film lets the imagination run wild, rather than clouding it with blockbuster fodder. Hollywood only knows how to indulge in big budgets and CGI centerpieces, none of which are to be found in the rarer, and truly cinematic indulgence, of Les Diaboliques.