(1968)4Wheeler Winston DixonHis many adherents regularly dub Chabrol "the French Hitchcock," and while it is a convenient way of reducing his work to its bare essentials, there are many differences between the two artists. While Chabrol deals in suspense, Hitchcock, particularly in his last films, revealed a deep streak of cruelty and misogyny that undercuts such films as Marnie (1964), The Birds (1963), and especially Frenzy (1972). Chabrol was more circumspect about such matters, and embraced a wider set of concerns in his films, making them much more universal in their appeal, and lasting in their social commentary. La Femme Infidèle is a tale of passion and adultery, but done with a much more distanced and ironic air than is typical of Hitchcock. Charles Desvallées (Michel Bouquet) discovers that his wife, Hélène (Stéphane Audran), is cheating on him. Methodically, he hires a private detective to have her followed, and discovers her lover's identity: he is Victor Pegala (Maurice Ronet), a writer. Driving to Pegala's apartment, Charles calmly introduces himself as Hélène's husband, and then kills Pegala with off-handed diffidence. The subsequent police investigation takes numerous and twists and turns, as is typical for Chabrol. But what interests the director here primarily is not the police inquiries, or even the moral questions surrounding Charles' guilt. What, Chabrol asks, will be Hélène's response to the crime? In the final analysis, Chabrol's film is more interested in matters of the heart than in questions of guilt or innocence, and becomes a psychological investigation of the situation surrounding the murder, rather than a typical policier. Born in 1930, Chabrol is remarkably prolific, with nearly 70 films to his credit, and at this writing still actively producing films, which are at once both commercially, and aesthetically satisfying. La Femme Infidèle is one of Chabrol's key early films, and a superb introduction to the work a master filmmaker who is interested not so much in suspense, but rather in the hearts and minds of those who inhabit his morally ambiguous universe.
Stéphane Audran plays the title character, Hélène Desvallées, the bored wife of insurance executive Charles Desvallées (Michel Bouquet). Charles suspects Hélène of playing the field, so he has a private detective locate his wife's lover, author Victor Pegala (Maurice Ronet). Confronting Victor, Charles tries to adopt an air of indifference, but the conversation ends with the husband bludgeoning the author to death and then calmly disposing of the evidence. When Hélène is questioned about Victor's murder, she discovers on her own that her husband is guilty. Instead of turning him in, Hélène is so thrilled that Charles cares so deeply about her that she is more in love with him than ever before. The Unfaithful Wife was directed by Claude Chabrol, the then real-life husband of leading lady Stéphane Audran.