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Claude Chabrol collection

Claude Chabrol limited edition collector's boxset: Les Biches, La Femme infidèle, Que la bete meure, Le Boucher, Juste avant le nuit, Les noces rouges, Nada, Madame Bovary

La Femme infidèle
cast: Stéphane Audran, Michael Bouquet, Maurice Ronet, and Michel Duchaussoy

director: Claude Chabrol

98 minutes (15) 1969
Arrow DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Andrew Hook
La Femme infidèle (The Unfaithful Wife) is another classic from director Claude Chabrol whose understanding of the desires and motives of his characters is so precise that we feel we are living each moment with them. Helene (Stéphane Audran) has what appears to be an idyllic family life in a large country house near Versailles. Her son, Michel, excels at school and prefers homework over television, whilst her husband Charles (Michel Bouquet) dotes on her, although their relationship is more perfunctory than passion-filled. However, Charles increasingly suspects Helene of having an affair, and after some investigation discovers her liaisons with the writer Victor Pegala (Maurice Ronet). His confrontation with Victor ends in tragedy.

This is very much a movie about manners rather than passion, with surface tensions chipping away at Charles' marriage until the situation is resolved and there is some brief hope of returning to normality. Helene does not appear overly dissatisfied with her marriage, and her meetings with Victor do not threaten it until they are discovered. What we see of those adulterous moments are simply commonplace conversation, the only hint of a relationship being that Helene and Victor are in bed whilst they talk. Chabrol does well to steer the movie away from any salaciousness, presenting instead the three central characters on the same level playing field. In this way it is much harder to judge who are the guilty parties (if anyone), or where our allegiance should lie.

If marriage is about maintaining the equilibrium, then Charles excels in his role. He clearly loves Helene, and his fear of her slipping away infuses his actions rather than his knowledge that he is a cuckold. It is clear that he blames Victor for the adultery rather than Helene, although it is evident that Helene was the instigator. Bouquet expertly conveys his emotions, with his quiet moments telling us as much about him as the overt ones. A scene at a nightclub shows him as out of place in his time. This might be the swinging 1960s, but he is at odds with it. Even his flighty mini-skirted secretary draws no immoral glances. Additionally, their son is pivotal to their marriage - neither can bear to be parted from him - and therefore their actions are directed towards maintaining the semblance of a happy home. In many ways, the movie is as much about fidelity as it is infidelity. The characters are faithful to themselves.

In addition to Bouquet's exemplary performance, Audran also acts well, playing it cool and believable. As an actress, her integrity is never in doubt, and just as in her role as another Helene in Le Boucher we are totally involved in her as a person, not simply a character. Maurice Ronet also makes for a very humble, somewhat embarrassed, adulterer.

La Femme infidèle is an example of a quiet, character-led movie that is thoroughly involving in its telling and well worth seeking out. However, as with the other Claude Chabrol movies in this eight-disc collection, there are no extras available on the DVD.

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