Paul (Paul Gegauff) and Esther (Danielle Gegauff) have, on the surface, a fine marriage. Thesurface cracks open for us almost immediately, however, as we see that the reason why thismarriage is “fine” is that Esther submits completely to Paul, and becomes whatever he desires.When he suggests that they sleep with other people, she complies, and begins to forge an identityof her own, one that Paul disapproves of. He reacts first with sarcasm, then with every-increasingmental …nd physical cruelty.
Paul is one nasty piece of work, and spending an entire film in his company (he is present inevery frame) is something of an ordeal. The viewing experience is rendered all the morediscomfiting by the fact that he is played by screenwriter Paul Gegauff, who based the characteron himself, and the events on the disintegration of his own marriage to Danielle Gegauff. As aportrait of the male animal at its absolute worst, the film is a striking success. Gegauff’sperformance is rather too mannered, however, and the script indulges in the worst of thenouveau roman’s pompous verbosity. Some of the editing is bizarrely choppy, anddirector Claude Chabrol’s symbolic gestures (a spider eating a ladybug, a black veil flapping overGegauff’s face) are thuddingly obvious rather than poetic.
Ouch. Very painful stuff. The soundtrack is a harsh mono. The music is faint and there isnoticeable hiss and crackle in the background. Most troubling, however, is the dialogue, which isbadly distorted throughout, buzzing in almost all registers. Just listening to the film is somethingof an ordeal.
The film is a 1975 feature, and the print looks a bit like it’s been sitting in the sun since then.The opening, in particular, looks awful, with washed-out colours, dirt, grain and lots ofspeckling. The damage diminishes once the credits are over, and the colours improve. The blacksare good, and there isn’t any edge enhancement. The grain is better, but still present, and thewidescreen format (1.66:1? hard to tell) is non-anamorphic, with concomitant loss of definition.The layer transition is badly timed, creating a jerk in the middle of a pan, not to mention a burstof static.
The commentary is by critic Dan Yakir and screenwriter Ric Menello. Their discussion isintelligent and illuminating, but badly desychronized. Thus, the commentary begins a goodminute or so into the film, and thereafter Yakir and Menello are referring to scenes that arealready long past. Menello writes an excellent essay on the film. The print bios of Chabrol andGegauff are first-rate too. There is also a still gallery, and an audio interview from 1977 withChabrol. The sound on the latter is pretty muzzy, but there are English subtitles. The menu isscored.
A fascinating, if not exactly enjoyable, film. The critical apparatus in the extras is top-notch,setting aside the technical difficulties.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary
- Director and Star/Writer Bios
- Still Gallery
- Production Notes
- Audio Interview with Claude Chabrol