“A change in my way of living would be dangerous.”
Claude Chabrol’s film The Unfaithful Wife (La Femme Infidele) centres on a married couple, Helene Desvallees (Stephane Audran) and her husband Charles (Michel Bouquet). An upper class couple, they live in a large country home with their only son, and Charles commutes to Paris daily. Charles begins to suspect that Helene is having an affair, and so he employs a private detective to investigate.
The Unfaithful Wife subtly hints at problems in the Desvallees’ marriage, but this couple conforms to the coldest and politest behaviour at all times. Helene sprawls out invitingly on the bed, but Charles offers only a modicum of affection right before turning off the lights and rolling over to sleep. There’s a problem here, but it’s never addressed head-on. Instead the Desvallees maintain their normal, polite behaviour until their world is shattered beyond repair.
The Unfaithful Wife was remade as Unfaithful (directed by Adrian Lyne), and I have to say that this is one of the rare instances when I prefer the remake to the original. While the plot outline is essentially the same, Unfaithful in contrast is all stormy, sweaty uncontrollable passion. In Chabrol’s film, Helene’s affair with her paramour is almost as stilted as her marriage. Nonetheless, Chabrol fans will want to catch the film, and Stephane Audran is quite superb. In French with subtitles.