La Femme Infidèle (Claude Chabrol / France-Italy, 1969):

The précis is in the opening credits -- a family portrait goes blurry, then snaps back in focus. The glazed magazine surfaces of the blueblood chateau provide the setting, husband (Michel Bouquet) and wife (Stéphane Audran) go through their civilized motions, a pastoral picnic here and a modish nightclub there. Claude Chabrol’s immaculate tracking shots suggest the fastidious polishing of diamonds, the deadpan push-pull of the bedroom (she dolls herself up and lies in bed, he turns out the lights and goes to sleep) sums up the relationship. Bouquet grows suspicious and hires a detective to keep track of the wife’s whereabouts, only to discover she’s spending afternoons with a divorced writer (Maurice Ronet). It’s not a matter of infidelity, he explains, she’s had affairs before but this one has been going on for too long. Refined bourgeois that he is, he introduces himself at the lover’s apartment to discuss the matter and finds his armor of amused indifference ("We don’t interfere in each other’s private lives") rattled by a glimpse of a rumpled bed and talk of Audran’s "availability." Before you know it, the lover has been bludgeoned with one of his own objets d’art. Murder is the ultimate therapy for couples in Chabrol's dapper and affecting comedy of alienated manners: The suspense stems not so much from the bundled-up body sinking into a mossy-green lagoon as from a moribund couple's reawakened fear and desire. Nothing here is as beguiling as the emotional turmoil peeking from behind Audran’s cool-elegant façade, her sadness for a vanished paramour giving way to the illicit satisfaction of knowing that her husband is willing to kill for her. Mallarmé's marriage (Herodiade), Lubitsch's (Angel), Sacha Guitry's ("An ideal wife remains faithful but tries to be just as charming as if she weren’t"). Compassion for these mannequins -- distant as spouses, close as accomplices -- enriches Chabrol’s acid, his pull-back-zoom-forward camera finally entraps, but also eulogizes. Cinematography by Jean Rabier. With Michel Duchaussoy, Louise Chevalier, and Louise Rioton.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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