Pros: Exquisite, quiet, gripping suspenser. Well acted.
Cons: Very slow moving and detailed. Not for everyone.
Claude Chabrol's excellent slow moving suspense drama, LA FEMME INFIDEL (1968) was the basis for Adrienne Lynne's 2002 UNFAITHFUL which delivered to film viewers a wonderful Oscar nominated performance by Diane Lane and some beautifully lensed sensual scenes. The new remake is one reason why this DVD was released and some will curiously pick it up to compare. It is a quieter, and much more subtle film than the remake. The new remake aka UNFAITHFUL is better than expected but does not follow through on its early promise and suddenly abandons the idea of staying with the wife's point of view (which made it an interesting companion piece to the original) and as it does so, it loses its momentum and reason for being.
Chabrol's THE UNFAITHFUL WIFE is an exquisite examination of a man's jealousy, shocking (but realistic)rage and it's aftermath. It mostly a quiet, slow moving film, that seems at first to be somewhat mundane as very little seems to be happening. You really have to pay attention to the little details and nuances.
Charles Desvallees (Michel Bouguet) seems to have a very comfortable and happy modern life. He is a bit of stick in the mud, but has a successful life, a beautiful home and a very pretty wife. We realized he is extremely jealous of his wife, Helen (Stephane Audran, director Chabrol's real life wife). At first this jealousy appears to be a character flaw for Helen never seems to be anything less than a devoted loving wife. But spouses know when something is amiss.
Slowly we realize that Charles does have reasons to jealous of his wife. He hires a private investigator who verifies his worst suspicions. Charles decides to confront his wife's lover, a writer by the name of Victor Pegala (Maurice Ronet). He wants to understand why his wife is having this affair. Then something happens that while not totally unexpected, changes the life of all involved.
The film is called THE UNFAITHFUL WIFE but it is really "The Cuckold Husband" because it is about Charles and the film is told almost entirely from his perspective. It is a subtle, passionate film with a rewarding ending that allows the film to fold together exquisitely. Some consider the film a minor masterpiece and I can certainly understand why that is. I don't think it's quite that good.
Claude Chabrol started his career as a critic for Cashiers du Cinema and helped to get several of the early French New Wave films financed. He then became a key director of the movement himself. He has made over 45 films in about 45 years.
Chabrol made his first film 1958s LE BEAU SERGE (BITTER REUNION) with money he received from his first wife's inheritance. It was followed with his first classic, the tale of decadent Parisian bohemian students, 1959s LES COUSINS (THE COUSINS)and yes it was re-made as Cousins. It's financial success allowed Chabrol to begin his own film production company and he financed the first films of Eric Rohmer, Philippe De Broca and Jacques Rivette.
Perhaps his richest period of film filmmaking began in 1967 with LES BICHES (THE GIRLFRIENDS) and 1968s LA FEMME INFIDEL (AN UNFAITHFUL WIFE) which he followed quickly in 1969 with QUE LA BETE MEURE (THIS MAN MUST DIE) and his masterpiece, LE BOUCHER (THE BUTCHER). He worked quite a bit on television in the 1970s but continues to make films and among his best known are STORY OF WOMEN (1988), MADAME BOVARY (1991). Some of the films he made in English include TEN DAYS WONDER (1972) and the HBO film THE BLOOD OF OTHERS in 1984. His latest is 2003s LA FLEUR DU MAL (THE FLOWER OF EVIL).
Long un-available, THE UNFAITHFUL WIFE is presented in its original 1:66.1 aspect ratio though it has not been anamorphically enhanced. The colors are bright even though there is an image softness many features from the late 60s and 70s have. There are also some visible print imperfections on occasion. The film is in French with a clear Dolby Digital mono track delivering everything clearly. The removable English subtitles are very easy to read. The disc contains filmographies and has the film's original French theatrical trailer.
Claude Chabrol's THE UNFAITHFUL WIFE is an artistic suspense thriller that very slowly builds to a satisfying climax. It is also a glimpse at the French bourgeoisie lifestyle circa 1968. If you are a fan of subtle French films, quieter Hitchcockian thrillers or Chabrol, do not miss this beautiful looking film. If you're merely curious about the inspiration for UNFAITHFUL (and aren't a fan of French films in general) you will probably not be impressed by this quiet slow moving film.
Christopher J. Jarmick