UNFAITHFUL WIFE, THE (Femme infidèle, La)

(director/writer: Claude Chabrol; cinematographer: Jean Rabier; editor: Jacques Gaillard; music: Pierre Jansen; cast: Stéphane Audran (Hélène Desvallées), Michel Bouquet (Charles Desvallees), Maurice Ronet (Victor Pegala), Michel Duchaussoy (Police Officer Duval), Serge Bento (Bignon), Henri Marteau (Paul), Michel Desvallees (Stéphane Di Napoli); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: André Génovès; Pathfinder Pictures; 1969-France-in French with English subtitles)

“It’s a brilliant scrutiny of the middle-class.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Claude Chabrol (“Just Before Nightfall”/”Les Biches”/”The Butcher”) directs this first-class murder mystery. It tells of the wealthy family man, an owner of an insurance business, Charles Desvallees (Michel Bouquet), locked into a happy suburban marriage with pretty wife Hélène (Stéphane Audran). They have a smart young boy, Michel. Charles discovers his wife is having an affair with a writer, Victor Pegala (Maurice Ronet), and visits him in his apartment, where he gently mentions he’s aware of the affair and that he has an arrangement with his wife to be open-minded about such affairs. But when he sees an anniversary gift he gave his wife in Victor’s possession, he goes into a jealous rage and kills Victor. Charles then calmly cleans up the place and dumps his body in a country pond.

Chabrol dissects the seemingly happy marriage and the adultery that leads to tragic results. The three main characters give terrific performances, each conveying their strengths, weaknesses and charms. It’s a brilliant scrutiny of the middle-class that envisions both cynicism and sympathy for them as they discover each other’s secrets.