Last year I compiled a list of films featuring the mentally disturbed. It did not feature L’Enfer but it should have.
The director is Claude Chabrol, the French Hitchcock. Like Hitchcock he is master of filming technique, Hitchcock learning his in the German new realist school of Fritz Lang in the early thirties. There is another similarity:the subtle use of sex. In L’Enfer there is a scene of Nelly (Emmanuelle Beart) waterskiing: her carefree abandon is sexual in the way of the famous shower scene in Psycho.
The film is about the obsessive jealousy of Paul ( Francis Cluzet ) a hotelier towards his wife Nelly, an obsession that turns him mad . The cleverness of the film is that its seen through the eyes of Paul so you are never quite sure what is real and what he is imagining. This results in a particularly disturbing though unresolved ending. Indeed the final words are “sans fin ” meaning no ending .
Emmanuelle Beart is regarded as the most beautiful actress of her day and most of others . She has a gorgeous luminous face with large eyes ,the only blemish being her full lips which have an odd quality caused by a botched cosmetic operation. Her debut in Jean de Florette/Manon Des Sources showed she could act too. Francois Cluzet is excellent too in a demanding role in which he has to make the slow descent into insanity. This darkness is well contrasted by Nelly’s carefree spirit being imprisoned in the hotel a place of enjoyment too . Chabrol even teases the audience with an amateur film about the hotel which when it features Nelly is watched by Paul almost in despair .
Above all the film shows you do not need excessive physical violence to make a film scary. The final scene when Paul now totally demented is capable of anything as he loses total grip of reality is very frightening but there is little physical ghoul.