Juste Avant La Nuit


Reviewed by: Caro Ness

Charles Masson (Michel Bouquet) is having an affair with Laura (Anna Douking), the wife of his best friend, the architect Francois Tellier (Francois Perier). Their sexual relationship is tortured - Laura is a dominatrix - and when one of their S&M games goes wrong, Charles strangles Laura.

Numbed by what has happened, he leaves and goes to a nearby bar, where he bumps into Francois, from whom he accepts a lift home and behaves as if nothing has happened when his friend gets news that his wife has met with an accident.

Gradually events unravel. A friend of Laura's, who owns the flat they used to conduct their affair, saw Charles on one occasion and tells Francois, but doesn't tell the police at Francois' insistence. Charles is faced with a problem at work where one of his colleagues warns him that he thinks that the accountant is swindling them but he does nothing about it. He sinks further and further into apathy and self-recrimination until he confesses to his wife, Helene (Stephane Audran), that he had an affair with Laura and that he was the one who killed her. She is so much in love with him, or the idea of him, that she does not say anything, either to the police, or to Francois. Charles, convinced that he must atone, then tells Francois, but he does not wish to do anything either, because it will not bring Laura back and possibly ruin Charles and his family .

This is a masterful film about the meaning of friendship and the darker sides to human nature. The sub-plot with the swindling accountant serves to heighten our sense of Charles' moral and spiritual cowardice. He is a man who inspires devotion but as first his wife and then his friend forgive him he feels more and more guilty and culpable and as he says, was it really an accident? He did want Laura dead because she held such an ugly fascination for him.

It is highly unsettling because you are drawn into the web of complicity, just as Francois and Helene are. At first we feel, like the other characters, that he is genuinely remorseful but gradually get the notion that he is the ultimate manipulator, a liar, a cheat and a coward and yet still inspires friendship and love.

Juste Avant La Nuit was made in 1971 and is one of the finest of the films from Claude Chabrol's pre-eminent period, which is considered to be from 1968 to 1973. Chabrol displays a keen, almost clinical sense of middle-class morality and psychological anguish. The characters are complex and the three leading actors give uniformly fine performances, particularly Bouqet who provides us with a vivid sense of what it is like to be tortured. Ironically, we begin to understand that his greatest torment isn't that he has killed Laura but that those he has betrayed can forgive him.

Adapted by the director from the novel by Edouard Atiyah, the script is fine and Chabrol's attention to detail is fascinating. There is a great emphasis on the number three.... from the triangle of Charles, Helene and Francois to the number of gulps that Charles always takes of any drink. Despite the heavy sexual overtones, intimacy is mainly implied and left to our imagination, a technique that is sadly lacking in most movies these days.

All in all, Chabrol paints a bleak picture of infidelity and betrayal, redeemed by love.

Reviewed on: 15 Apr 2006
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Sexual betrayal, forgiveness and murder in a small, suburban town.
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Director: Claude Chabrol

Writer: Claude Chabrol, based on the novel by Edouard Atiyah

Starring: Michel Bouqet, Stephane Audran, Francois Perier, Anna Douking. Dominique Zardi, Herni Attal, Jean Carmet, Marina Ninchi

Year: 1971

Runtime: 102 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: France/Italy


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