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L’Enfer (Hell) 1995

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.


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About Neil Rosen

Neil went to the City of London School and Manchester University graduating with a 1st in economics. After a brief stint in accountancy, Neil emigrated to a kibbutz In Israel. His articles on the burgeoning Israeli film industry earned comparisons to Truffaut and Godard in Cahiers du Cinema. Now one of the world's leading film critics and moderators at film Festivals Neil has written definitively in his book Kosher Nostra on Jewish post war actors. Neil lives with his family in North London. More Posts